As our spiritual interest eventually directs us inwardly, we begin to understand that there are two conflicting influences at work within us. One is seeking to gain the world, and the other, our spiritual counterpart, is often drowned out in the hustle of keeping everything together.
In his parables, Jesus frequently uses pairs of opposites to make this point. He compares a house built on rock with one built on sand. He contrasts the far country with home, the prodigal son and his obedient brother. He speaks of evil treasures and good treasures, sheep and goats, wide and narrow gates, wheat and tares, foolish and wise virgins, light and darkness, water that quenches thirst permanently and water that quenches thirst temporarily. He speaks of those born of the flesh and those born of the spirit. We have statements on God and mammon, good fish and bad fish, rich man and poor man to name a few. In every case we can see these as examples of that part of us that struggles to gain the world (the self-image) and that spiritual center of power (the soul) that is calling us home.
Jesus isn’t contrasting good and bad things. He’s pointing to two levels of consciousness. One rises from the spiritual dimension, the house built on rock. The other has its origin in the senses-driven self-image, the house built on sand. In all of his illustrations, the favorable element refers to the spiritual, while the unfavorable refers to that part of us that interfaces with the material world.
Did Jesus denounce this material interface and encourage his followers to do the same? On one hand, we could present evidence that he did:
“And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.“
And again, we have this incident:
“While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.’”
His actions do not bear out that he shunned family and the world. Though scholars suggest his father must have passed sometime before he reached thirty, his mother was with him to the end. He often withdrew from the crowds for prayer and rest, but he always returned to his family and to his public life. According to John, he utters this prayer on behalf of his disciples:
“I do not pray that thou should take them out of the world, but that thou should keep them from the evil one.”
We need not think of the evil one as a horned devil wielding a pitchfork determined to steal our soul. Think of it as that blaring distraction that comes through the senses and hinders our quest for a first-hand experience of the Presence. Any proclamation denouncing the world and family is best understood as Jesus acknowledging the soul’s true source. If we are of the world, we are controlled by it. The soul, he is saying, is not of the world but of God. And if we are of God, we take our lead from our intuitive promptings. Our moral compass is set by our understanding of our spiritual status. But we understand and participate in our physical relationships, as did Jesus. Concerning his attitude toward parents, it’s clear that Jesus maintained his native religious values:
“For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die.‘”
Our parents gave birth to our body, not to our soul. The soul has its source in God, which is what Jesus is saying here as well:
“And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.”
This is not a put-down to fatherhood, but a reminder that the body, that physical being we see when we look into a mirror, is the offspring of our parents. The I that is the offspring of God, the soul, is the one seeing through the eyes of that physical image peering back at us.
One might think that if Jesus advocated shunning the world, he would denounce the institution of marriage, a key element in the perpetuation of the human species. From the following passage, it appears that he did not:
“Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”
The mystical thread in this passage includes a pair of opposites, but in a different, more complimentary sort of way. Whether it was originally intended, we can understand it as a reference to the mystical union between the intellect (male) and the intuition (female).
The intellect is our interface with the material domain, that fact-gathering logic-based aspect of the mind that is essential to our material interaction. The intuition is our interface with the spiritual domain. This aspect gives us full exposure to our spiritual identity, our spiritual source, our “one Father who is in heaven.”
Before these two are joined in marriage, the intellect wanders the world gathering a storehouse of facts from which it builds its surface identity. The world of appearances is its father and mother. He discovers his intuitive side and the marriage takes place. This is the spiritual awakening of the individual. To say that God has joined these together is to say this is a natural and deeply felt experience, the individual waking to the truth of his or her being and to their full range of perceptual faculties. One who experiences this union cannot be argued away from it. No man (intellectual argument) can put it asunder.
This same dynamic is presented elsewhere in the Gospels. The third chapter of John opens with a conversation between Jesus and the Pharisee, Nicodemus. In these passages Jesus makes the distinction between two kinds of people, one who is born of the flesh (the strict intellectual) and one who is born of the spirit (the intuitive). One who is born of the flesh draws his or her identity from the external realm, the body and environment.
It is also difficult to think Jesus encouraged his followers to abandon their children.
“Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
On the physical level we are obviously related to people and we have strong emotional ties to them. Likewise, we have property that is ours to own and enjoy. But spiritually we do not draw our being from either our families or our possessions. Jesus’ invitation to leave them is a rather dramatic way of driving home this critical point.
This makes sense when you treat the you Jesus refers to as the soul, the true essence of the individual. You, the soul, have one Father, one Source, who is in heaven, the spiritual domain. Is this not true? Again, your parents gave birth to your body. But where did your soul come from? It rises from this boundless, omnipotent field of energy we call God.
Over the years I’ve encountered a number of people who were either criticized or denounced by their families. Their crime? They questioned their religious upbringing and began pursuing a different spiritual path. They were either constantly warned and criticized or shunned altogether. I know a few who were assured in no uncertain terms that they were going to Hell. I’m always a little saddened by this, though not surprised. I’m saddened because people can justify their hard religious attitudes toward their more open-minded family members with sayings like these:
“For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law … “
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Doesn’t this strike you as a rather odd saying coming from one the world has accepted as Isaiah’s prince of peace? And yet to one who understands the mystical thread of his teachings, you know Jesus is speaking of an internal struggle. The teachings of the inner kingdom, wielding that double-edged sword of Truth, stir and break up our existing worldview.
The notions of an inner and outer kingdom are based on two completely different sets of principles. The first deals with ever-changing external conditions, signs to be observed, while the second deals with changes within one’s own consciousness. There is nothing peaceful about this internal battle between old and new ideas. For most, the notion of an inner kingdom is like new wine being introduced into the old wineskins of an established, senses-based consciousness.
“Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; if it is, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
For one who has spent years looking to the heavens for answers, the shift to the inner, intuitively acquired experience will cause a major stir. The sword is drawn every time you close your eyes and seek that inner stillness, the abode of the Lord of your being.
As we grow in understanding, we become sensitive to being drawn by worldly concerns away from our center of power. We share Paul’s dilemma: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
The one and only thing that blocks us from seeing the spiritual dimension is our preoccupation with the external part of life.
The Gospel of Jesus in a Nutshell
We have four Gospels about Jesus, but do we have a Gospel of Jesus? For me, the Gospel of Jesus is summarized in the parable of the Prodigal Son. This story provides a superb summary of the entire problem of sin and salvation and I believe it serves quite well as the standard by which we can determine the principles found at the heart of his message.
Luke positions this parable and the two that precede it—the lost coin and the lost sheep—in the early Christian context of the wayward sinner, which is how it is typically considered today. Though we’re led to believe that Jesus taught a repent or else message, his original intent was probably more in line with the less abrasive, forgiving words and actions of the father of the wayward son. It’s been suggested that Luke was seeking to appease a remnant of John the Baptist’s following who would have been accustomed to John’s harsher tone.
An overview of this parable shows that it contains all three phases or acts of the Hero’s Journey: Act 1) the departure Act 2), the initiation Act 3) the return. In act 1 the son leaves his ordinary life to heed the call to adventure. Once out, he encounters severe trials that lead him to the brink of disaster. In act 2, his transformative moment occurs when he comes to himself. The arrogance of youth is replaced with humble compliance. In act 3 he returns home a changed character.
I think the perfect litmus test for Jesus’ gospel is found in how well his various saying align with the principles illustrated in this parable. The sinner is punished by his sins, his own, self-destructive choices, not for them. Notice that Jesus doesn’t have the father forgiving his son. In his clear display of unconditional love, the father never condemns the son. The only condemnation in the story comes from the older brother. This brother represents the demand for punishment found in so many mainstream religions who seem to think that the way to save a person from Hell is to scare it out of them.
I like to think of Truth as the omnipotence of God expressing as the spiritual essence of every individual. This is a perpetual, unstoppable action. We see this principle portrayed in the prodigal story. The father represents this perpetual state of self-expression in his love for both sons. Our wayward thinking does not change the ever-expanding, expressive activity of God in us. We may wander into the far country of despair, but because this relationship of oneness never changes, we can come to ourselves and begin our journey home, no bargaining necessary.
The younger son breaks the rules and his older brother insists on his being punished. Both suffer as the result of their respective transgressions. The father goes out to welcome his wayward son but he also goes out to console his angry son. Isn’t this an illustration of the unconditional love of God, a message worthy of being treated as the good news, the Gospel that Jesus intended to bring to the world?
Regardless of how far we stray from our inner connection with the omnipotence of God, our spiritual center of power, we may return with our soul fully intact. Yes, we will undoubtedly be lured repeatedly into that far country of suffering. But the omnipotence of God continues to express as our spiritual beacon even through our darkest, self-inflicted moments of pain. We can turn from God, but God can never turn from us. This, I believe, is the good news that Jesus intended to bring to the world.
 Matthew 19:29
 Matthew 12:46-50
 John 17:15
 Matthew 15:4
 Matthew 23:9
 Matthew 19:4-6
 Matthew 19:14
 Matthew 10:35
 Matthew 10:34
 Isaiah 9:6
 Matthew 9:17
 Romans 7:15
 Luke 15:11-32
 Luke 15:11-32