Jesus, a Master Teacher

This is a good piece for listening while reading. Thomas Tallis was a composer in the 1500s.
Here is an outstanding performance by the Cambridge Singers with John Rutter.

If ye love me,

keep my commandments,

and I will pray the Father,

and he shall give you another comforter,

that he may 'bide with you forever,

e'en the spirit of truth.

  —  John 14:15–17 

Jesus is the reason I became a priest. Even as an atheist, I remain his student. After all, Buddha, Jesus and Rumi were all attacked as heretics, atheists and blasphemers by the religious establishments of their time. This poses a question : Why do so many atheists admire Jesus? My answer:

Jesus taught that we could guide ourself  from within.

Instead of being channeled by the external forces of society and religion.


One of the great teachers of all time - Jesus was a wandering Jewish preacher 2,000 years ago, called a master by his disciples / students - and he taught about true motives and the honesty of the heart, contrasting the hypocrisy of a rich man praying in public and making a grand gesture of donating with the motives of a poor widow giving two pennies - all she had. 


Football player praying before thousands in a stadium - versus the two pennies of a widow.
Jesus despised those who pray in public.
[A note: The small copper coins were called leptons then - Just what we call small elementary particles like the electron today.]

He taught using sermons, parables and sayings, only some of which we can identify today. How did his teaching get so corrupted and lead to society’s institutional public and imperial religions of today? Much of what Jesus tried to teach us is obscured by religion now but some fragments remain if we search for them. 

Thomas Jefferson admired Jesus too and constructed a book titled "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth”, by extracting Jesus' actual teaching from the New Testament gospels and deleting the miracles and superstitous parts, which he considered corrupt modifications. It is known today as The Jefferson BIble.  Others have tried to clean up and unify Jesus’ story as well,  see especially Tolstoy's The Gospel in Brief.


Jesus was not a modern scientist. He knew nothing of physics and chemistry, biology and computers or DNA. He was a first century carpenter like my carpenter grandfather. Even though Jesus was a man from 2,000 years ago, knowing nothing of the stars and galaxies; microbes and DNA; planes, trains and automobiles of today — 

 he saw into the human heart with a penetrating clarity
that reaches to our day - 2,000 years later.

His disciples knew him like that - a real day to day man whom they tried to follow on his path, his Way as he called it. As for Jesus himself, he called himself a Son of Man - a human, not a Son of God as later Bible writers made up. The god part was made up later when people wanted to build an institution of society. To gain authority they tried to make him a god, like they did for the emperors or pharaohs. Under Emperor Constantine they even went so far as to establish an imperial state religion with approved leaders [bishops, priests and deacons], approved documents [Bibles, Prayer Books and hymnals] and approved oaths [creeds] where one must toe the line. 

Like an archaelogical dig, we will have to discard many layers from institutional religion  if we want to regain a view of the Jesus underneath - 1: churches, creeds, bibles as established by the imperial state religion of Constantine; 2: Paul’s group's modifications diverting the small Jewish sect of Jesus into a Greek mystery religion; 3: and we will have to discard all the superstition of bronze and iron age religion as well. All these corruptions will have to be thrown overboard.  This does not leave us much factual material about Jesus - except some teachings - sermons and parables and sayings. But this is where the prize, the real gold is to be found: not magic Jesus or Jesus the god, - - - but Jesus the man.

If we look for Jesus we will find ourselves on the famous "Quest for the Historical Jesus" - where so many, even Albert Schweitzer, have given up. Many consider this a fruitless search. I consider it worthwhile, because I learn something valuable on nearly every pass, no matter how small.

Our primary resource will be the Bible - a compromised and corrupt source. You will find it says not only “Love your neighbor”, but also teaches “Kill everything that breathes”. Plus you will find the prehistoric change in society - from nomadic to agricultural. So read carefully. Warning: Your BS detector should be turned on. The Bible is full of agendas of many groups, each with lots of propaganda.

About the Bible: The Bible, despite the greek term biblos - βιβλος- is not a single book. It comes from a collection of writings by different writers across centuries. Many writings are not in the recognized collection. And often what appears to us to be a “book” in modern terms is just a collection of smaller pieces patched together. These small pieces are called pericopes and frequently their origins are untraceable. For example, Jesus is often described by his sermons, parables and sayings. Many, maybe even most of these pieces were collected decades, even centuries after Jesus, by people who were not eyewitnesses. Some of these pericopes even came from other sources - popular greek sayings, or were editorial attempts to fix obvious defects in the text.

While reading, you will have to translate from the worldview of these ancient writers to your own today. Theirs was a world of emperors and gods, magic and superstition - ours is now a world of starships and computers, molecules and DNA. Be a patient reader and a bit of a Sherlock Holmes.  If we really dig and remain alert, we can discern some of the teachings of Jesus which still remain.

Modern Biblical scholarship shocks many people today because it shows that many religious assumptions are false, especially about the early Christian timeline and the orgins of doctrines. As for churches, many of their doctrines were added decades and even centuries after Jesus. I suggest two short essays to get started, both by Episcopal Bishop John Spong. The first is about Jesus himself - Jesus for the Non-Religious and the recording and modification of his story.. The second is about Resurrection - Easter: In Need of Reinterpretation and comes to grip with ancient and modern interpretation of Biblical miracles. 

BTW, most modern seminary educated clergy know these things. They are just afraid to rock the boat and tell their charges the truth. For example, even a simple reading of the gospels shows a large  amount of tampering. I will show you an example of this in some truth about Jesus in my next page. Meanwhile 

Today you are more likely to hear Jesus’ message from folk singers in Central Park
than from churches, as here from Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel:


NOW  - About Jesus' teaching methods: 


An excellent staging of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount

The most famous of Jesus' teachings is the Sermon on the Mount. Fragments are found in Matthew 5 and Luke 6. They are known as the Beatitudes - wikipedia linkIn the Sermon, Jesus gathers ideas and precepts from Judaism and other religions, including Buddhism and Hinduism. Here is the version from Matthew:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

    for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

    for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

    for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,

    for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

    for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

    for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake,

    for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

He doesn’t teach blessed are you for your position in society, your prominent career, fancy clothes, shiny car, big house, trophy spouse, bank account or stock portfolio, or even many guns and influential friends — as society teaches. He says instead:

“Hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Be gentle - a peacemaker and merciful.  
Be pure in heart. Be a light and bear fruit.

“Where your treasure is,
there your heart will be also."

Then, Jesus gets even more radical: He is fond of contrasts, often saying: 
“You have heard this ... But I say that …” leading to something even more radical: 
              “You have been taught: eye for eye, but I say: 
 “do not oppose the wicked by force” ...

Matthew 5:

38You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
39Whereas I tell you not to oppose the wicked man by force; rather, whosoever strikes you upon the right cheek, turn to him the other as well;
40And to him who wishes to bring a judgment against you, so he may take away your tunic, give him your cloak as well;
41And whoever presses you into service for one mile, go with him for two.
42Give to the one who begs from you, and do not turn away from one who wishes to borrow from you.
43You have heard that it has been said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and shall hate your enemy’— 44Whereas I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you;

                                     The New Testament: A Translation by David Bentley Hart. 

          Jesus’  gives a new Prime Directive:
                                             Where you find evil, return good.
          and a new commandment:
                                 That you love one another, even as I have loved you.

Seen in his light, we are greedy little squabbling monkeys driven by fear and insecurity, stealing and killing. Ouch! - a stiff dose of reality. In contrast, it takes deep thought and inner calm to even begin to learn the inner strength that Jesus teaches. As Jesus pointed out: few really go this way. No wonder the society, religious, government and military came after him. Because Jesus is a disrupter. If you follow his way, they will come after you too.

Jesus intends to create a new society - the Kingdom of God, made of new humans, re-born to this new standard. In his time, this can be seen as leading to courageous new living, free of society’s retribution, stealing and killing. In our time, it may even be further necessary for humanity to survive our bad monkey behavior. As Tolstoy re-stated it:

There is only one way to put an end to evil, and that is to do good for evil.

I began to understand this much later. Looking back in my own life I saw strength like Jesus’ strength in another quiet rural carpenter, my grandfather. As a boy, I saw everything I ridiculed - deep south, southern baptist, not successful in business, not a smart guy like me or at least as I saw myself. And then later and from a greater distance I began to really see him. He had strength like Jesus’s strength - always quiet, affirming, supportive, giving, strong.

After getting my family - me, wife & babies thrown out on the street during the Vietnam War by so called “good christians”, I learned that my grandfather had stood against society too, when it was much more difficult to stand against society's war machine. During the First World War - WWI - he went, but as a conscious objector he was ridiculed and made to shoe mules. I never knew these things until later. Maybe it runs in his blood, now my blood. ...

It took me a long time to perceive what was right in front of my face. 

More about this later.


 MORE about Jesus' teaching methods: 


The other main body of Jesus’ teachings are found in his parables. You probably know some of the famous ones. These teaching stories are sometimes like riddles. Wikipedia has a survey article about the  Parables of Jesus.  

A staging of Jesus' most famous parable - The Good Samaritan:

Luke 10:
“And who is my neighbor?” 30Taking this up, Jesus said, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem, and he fell among bandits, who stripped him and rained blows upon him and went away leaving him half dead. 31And by a coincidence a certain priest was going down by that road and, seeing him, passed by on the opposite side. 32And a Levite also, coming upon the place and seeing him, passed by on the opposite side. 33But a certain Samaritan on a journey came upon him and was inwardly moved with compassion, 34And approaching bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine, and setting him upon his own mount he brought him to a lodge and cared for him. 35And taking out two denarii on the following day he gave them to the keeper of the lodge and said, ‘Take care of him, and whatever you spend beyond this I shall repay you on my return.’ 36Who of these three does it seem to you became a neighbor to the man falling among bandits?” 37And he said, “The one treating him with mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

 — Translation by David Bentley Hart

In his parables, Jesus restates many ideas, including those from Hinduism and Buddhism and then presses them on to their logical conclusion with statements of the form: "You have heard this," … "But I say that…” 

A key feature of Jesus’ parables was stories about seeds, planting, reaping, bearing fruit. 

I like that metaphor too. We will focus on this metaphor. … .. I’ll have to return here, later….



Don’t water Jesus down, trying to avoid him by saying he was a god, and magic. Like you and me he was no god, but a man more like my grandfather - a backwoods carpenter. And yet, like my grandfather, strength radiated from his inner peace - like a light. Can we do the same today?

Despite what TV preachers say today,
Jesus’ teachings were NOT about prosperity, the rules of society or the doctrines of religion.
Jesus’ teachings were about thinking, feeling and belonging - what we call love. 

Alfred North Whitehead suggested that we could recover Jesus’ - 

  "brief Galilean vision of humility":

"It does not emphasize [God as] the ruling Caesar, or the ruthless moralist, or the unmoved mover. It dwells upon the tender elements in the world, which slowly and in quietness operates by love; and it finds purpose in the present immediacy of a kingdom not of this world. Love neither rules, nor is it unmoved; also it is a little oblivious as to morals. It does not look to the future; for it finds its own reward in the immediate present.”
 -- Process and Reality, Alfred North Whitehead


3 - Aphorisms - Sayings: The third category of Jesus’ teaching are his sayings, or aphorisms.
       These were popular at the time, so popular that their origins, Jesus or otherwise, are hard to determine.

In closing, my personal favorite Jesus saying is: 

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; 
knock and the door will be opened to you.” 

- Matthew 7:7, or Luke 11:9

This one often leads me to say:  "What you seek is what you will find
                                           or      “What you are finding is what you are seeking.


I haven been fortunate to have some outstanding masters teach me: in the machine shop and business: my father; in carpentry: my grandfather; in physics: Joe Ford; in math: Joe Wray; in humanity: Jesus. 

In my opinion, every student who is taught by a master is obligated to also become a teacher. Do you have masters in your life that taught you? Have you become a master of what you were taught? And passed it on?

Even today, after I have left gods and religion behind, I feel that I am a disciple of a master teacher who taught me about the human heart - Jesus. I will always be his student - maybe one day a master myself. 

It took me a while to learn what he did: He planted a seed. Hah !! I can hear him laughing even now. How I found this out and what I did about it is recounted in my next two pages.


Next >>>>> An Atheist Sermon


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