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The Tradition of Jesus vs the Christian Religion

19/10/2013

To adequately comprehend Christianity, one must make  some distinctions that are accepted by most scholars. Thus, it is important to distinguish between the historical Jesus and the Christ of the faith.  By historical Jesus is understood the preacher and prophet from Nazareth as he actually existed under Caesar Augustus and Herod. The Christ of the faith is the content of the preaching of his disciples, who see Him as the Son of God and Savior.

Another important distinction that must be made is between the Kingdom of God and the Church. The Kingdom of God is the original message of Jesus. It signifies an absolute revolution, redefining the relationships of human beings with God, (sons and daughters), of humans among themselves (all brothers and sisters), of humans with society (the centrality of the poor), and with the universe (the creation of a new heaven and a new Earth). The Church has been possible because Jesus was rejected and therefore, the Kingdom of God was not realized. The Church is a historical construction, that tries to carry on the cause of Jesus in different cultures and epochs. The dominant incarnation is in Western culture, but it is also found in Eastern culture, in the Copt and others.

It is also important to distinguish between theTradition of Jesus, and the Christian religion.  TheTradition of Jesus predates the writing of the Gospels, even though it is embodied in them. The Gospels were written from 30 to 60 years after the execution of Jesus. In the meantime, communities and churches were organized, with their tensions, internal conflicts and forms of organization. The Gospels reflect and are part of this situation.  The Gospels do not pretend to be historical books, but books for edification, and for the diffusion of the life and message of Jesus, as the Savior of the world.

What does theTradition of Jesus mean within this tangle? TheTradition of Jesus is that hard nucleus, the contents that fit in a nut shell and represent the original intention and praxis of Jesus (ipsissima intentio et acta Jesu) before the interpretations that were made of them. It could be summarized in the following: In the first place is the dream of Jesus, the Kingdom of God, as an absolute revolution of history and the universe, a conflictive proposition, because it opposed the kingdom of Caesar. Then, His personal experience of God, that He transmitted to His followers: God is Father (Abba), filled with love and tenderness. His special characteristic is to be merciful, God loves the ungrateful and the bad (Luke 6,35). Then He preaches and lives unconditional love, that He puts on the same level as the love of God. Another point is to give centrality to the poor and the invisible. They are the first addressed and beneficiaries of the Kingdom, not for their moral condition, but because they are deprived of life, which causes the living God to opt for them. Our conduct with them will determine whether or not we attain salvation (Matthew  25,46). Still another important point is community. He chose twelve to live with Him; the number twelve is symbolic: it represents the gathering of the 12 tribes of Israel and the reconciliation of all peoples, becoming The People of God. Finally, the use of power. The only legitimate use of power is that which serves the community, and the power holder must always seek to be in last place.

These values and visions form theTradition of Jesus. As can be seen, it is not about an institution, doctrine or discipline. Jesus wanted to teach how to live, not to create a new religion, an institution with pious parishioners. TheTradition of Jesus is a good dream, a spiritual path that can take many forms and also can have followers other than the religious and ecclesiastic.

TheTradition of Jesus transformed itself through history into a religion, the Christian religion: a religious organization consisting of different Churches, especially the Roman Catholic Church. These Churches are characterized by being institutions with doctrines, disciplines, ethical determinations, ritual forms of celebration and juridical canons. The Roman Catholic Church in particular was organized around the category of sacred power (sacra potestas), which it concentrated in the hands of a small elite, a hierarchy with the Pope at the head, to the exclusion of the laity and of women. The hierarchy holds on to the decision making, and a monopoly on the word. It is hierarchical, and creates great inequalities. The hierarchy illegitimately claims to be identified with theTradition of Jesus.

This type of historical transformation obscures the best of the originality and enchantment of theTradition of Jesus. It is why the Churches are all in crisis, because they are no longer “joy for all the people” (Luke 2,11), as they were at their beginnings.

Jesus, Himself, foresaw this development, warning that is of little use to observe the laws “and not worry about the most important, which is justice, mercy and faith; this is what is important, without excluding the other” (Matthew 23,23).

Returning to the present:  Wherein lies the fascination with the figure and speeches of Pope Francis? It is because he directly allies himself with theTradition of Jesus.  Pope Francis affirms that “love comes before dogma and service to the poor before doctrines” (Civiltà Cattolica). Without this inversion, Christianity loses “the freshness and the fragrance of the Gospel.”  It transforms itself into a religious ideology and becomes a doctrinarian obsession.

There is no way to regain the credibility the Roman Catholic Church has lost, other than to return to the Tradition of Jesus, as Pope Francis is wisely doing.

Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro, alfaro_melina@yahoo.com.ar,
done at REFUGIO DEL RIO GRANDE, Texas, EE.UU.

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