The bottom line is really simple … be good and do good.
Love God (be good) and love all mankind (do good).
That is what really matters in this life!
Jesus of Nazareth (paraphrased)
My life started out pretty rough. I was born out of wedlock to a teenage mother, so from early childhood, there was a social stigma hanging over me and my family. People accused my mom of being immoral, a fornicator, and even called her a whore. Since most of the folks in our small community knew the background of our family, when I was younger, we tended to be on the outside of most of the circles of “respectable” members of the community. I grew up knowing what it feels like to be on the outside looking in most of the time, so I had to develop a strong sense of identity independent of the opinions of others. My friends used to joke that I must have been born to be a rebel because I lacked any sense of social restraint most of the time!
My “Dad” was a regular working class guy who made a living doing general construction trade work. When I was young, I followed in his footsteps and became a day laborer, working with my Dad on his contract jobs and picking up a few odd jobs along the way. Dad was very devout and made sure we attended religious services all the time, so I tried to emulate his example and was pretty much considered a “good boy”. I was even pegged by a lot of people in our congregation as a good prospect for full-time ministry, due to my instinctive understanding of spiritual principles.
But when I was in my late teens, my Dad died suddenly, so as the oldest son, I had to become the man of the house to help support my Mom and my younger brothers and sisters. At that point, any plans for a professional career went down the drain. For the next ten years I continued to support my family until my brothers got old enough to begin to help out financially, which took some of the burden from me. During this time, I continued my religious studies on my own, and eventually was allowed to present sermons at church. Everyone seemed to be amazed at the spiritual insight and maturity of my teaching, considering my age. But somehow, understanding the realm of spiritual things did not seem to be all that difficult for me. In fact, it seemed almost instinctive and natural, so it was sometimes hard for me to understand why everyone else regarded spiritual matters to be “spooky” or difficult, or even unknowable. My philosophy was that we were all created as spiritual beings, so operating in the realm of the spirit in daily life seemed to be the most natural way to live.
When local religious leaders encouraged my preaching and teaching ministry, I began to book speaking engagements in small country churches around the area, which turned into a full time gig as a traveling preacher. Several wealthy women in the community really liked my message and style of teaching, so they offered to financially sponsor my speaking tour. This allowed me to continue to visit the smaller rural communities that could not give financially to my ministry without worrying about daily living expenses.
This base of financial support turned out to be a mixed blessing, since rumors started circulating that I was a “ladies man”. Since some of the women who provided support for my ministry were well-to-do widows and wives of some prominent local men, some were starting to whisper that I was just looking for a “sugar momma”. There were even rumors that I was providing “services” to these women that were not just spiritual in nature! Considering what people said about my mom when I was a kid, I was disappointed by the rumors, but not really that surprised, knowing how people can be sometimes.
More rumors and scandals began to circulate throughout the next couple years of my ministry, due to the circle of associations I had developed. Since a lot of those who responded to my message were considered the lower class and even the “scum” of society, there were accusations that I was just as bad as the company I kept. Those who were most offended by my views of practical spirituality were the established members of the religious community and even the pastors and scholars within the denomination. I figured that these were the very ones who stood to lose perceived status in the religious pecking order if my views of “practical spirituality” became widely accepted. Probably most of the vicious rumors and lies were started by the “most upstanding” members of the community.
To be fair, there was a little bit of truth behind the lies because I did go out for drinks with the guys who wanted to hear more about my views after my speaking engagements. Sometimes I even picked up the tab for a good spread at a local eatery, since some of these folks were homeless or unemployed, so they didn’t eat too well much of the time. Other times everyone pitched in to reserve the back room at a restaurant or pub so I could talk while everyone was eating. Those who followed me on my speaking tours probably helped spread the idea that we were a “good time” crowd since we fed the body while feeding the soul. I knew there were some who were just showing up in hopes of free food and drinks, but even these party crashers heard the message while they ate, so it was still worthwhile in the end.
As my following grew, some community leaders began to take notice in a positive way, often due to the enthusiasm of those who hung out with me. Members of my “posse” were often the housekeepers, nannies, gardeners, pool cleaners, mechanics, or retail clerks who worked for the wealthier people in town. When their bosses saw a change in their lives and attitudes and asked them what was going on, they had the opportunity to share the message they had heard and believed. Even some of those well off people who were skeptical or openly hostile toward our movement initially began to see real changes in the lives of those whom they formerly had looked down on as socially and morally inferior. They began to wonder why the people whom they thought deserved a lower status in life were the very ones that God seemed to be embracing and changing in a dramatic way.
This led to being invited to private “parties” to meet quietly with some of the rich folks who had realized the emptiness of their own lives and were searching for something more meaningful than merely material wealth and social standing. Some privately embraced the message, but were not able to give up the addiction to the opinions of others, so did not want to acknowledge their beliefs openly. Others embraced the message whole-heartedly and began to sponsor social events for friends and business associates, and even some of the more open-minded and liberal religious leaders.
Out of appreciation, some of these wealthy supporters began to give financial support to the movement and even expensive clothes as personal gifts to me. Of course, some of my friends who were ”good-ole-boys” from the early days started razzing me about selling out and going “corporate”, but even they admitted that I looked pretty good in a custom fitted suit! The upgraded wardrobe also helped gain acceptance for the message among the socially ambitious middle-class who saw that some of the upper-class began to join the movement. This was the beginning of the broad support for the movement across all classes in societies, which ironically later led to more trouble later on.
Sorry to go off on a rant here, but the hypocrisy of those between the wealthy “haves” and poor “have-nots” is kind of a sore point with me. To be very blunt, many middle class people were more status conscious than the upper class, so they didn’t want to listen to a guy who looked and sounded like a redneck and relied on the charity of others for a living. These folks resented that I wasn’t “working hard” to earn a “respectable” living by like they were, so accused me of being lazy, or even a crook and a charlatan. Of course they were also the ones who would spend hours negotiating with the people who provided services to them just to keep a buck in their pocket at the expense of someone else. I recall stories from some guys in our group about haggling with some suburban homeowner over what amounted to a dollar or two an hour for lawn care service contracts. For the lawn care workers, this amounted to loss of income needed to pay their living expenses or operating costs. For the homeowner, the only motivation was to be able to brag to the neighbors about what a great deal they were able to negotiate for their lawn care service, even though the amount they saved was just pocket change for them.
Most of these hypocrites who criticized me didn’t consider that I had already worked hard for decades to help support my family before becoming a preacher. What really chafed was that most of them, and their kids, grew up hanging out around town with friends most of the time while earning party money by doing easy jobs given to them by family or their dad’s business associates as a favor. Frankly, traveling all the time, helping those less fortunate along the way, sometimes wondering where the next meal would come from, was not exactly an easy life! What was so ironic about the behavior and attitudes of those in the middle was that they were envious of what they did not have, but would not ever go out of their way to help anyone else get a leg up in life. They seemed to think they were absolutely entitled to whatever they had gained by their own hard work, yet looked down on those who worked two or three jobs just to make ends meet. They lived way beyond their means to try to look better off financially than they really were, just so they could hob-nob with those wealthier than them and get invited to fancier cocktail parties. What a pathetic way to live!
Fortunately, even though many well-off people were truly just as stingy as anyone, many actually gave privately to charities or people in amounts that really made a difference. Yet the most generous people I ever met were actually the poorest. People in rural areas and slums often had a great sense of community and caring, sharing equally with others when they were fortunate enough to have a little extra. OK, enough with the soap box for now.
Coincidentally, at that point, I began to have uneasy feelings about my future, even though outwardly things were going pretty well. Maybe that was just a habit learned in childhood from living through tough times, but my instincts turned out to be correct. As my popularity grew among all classes of society, a crowd seemed to follow me wherever I went. Just getting some alone time to pray and recharge became a real challenge. I couldn’t even go into town with just my close friends without being mobbed, so we ended up camping out in the open areas outside the urban centers most of the time. When the whole entourage camped out with us as we traveled, it was like a roving squatter’s village!
Of course the local government officials started to get worried about this wandering mob, thinking we must surely be up to something unsavory or treacherous. They started having local law enforcement and sometimes even the feds watching everything we did, just hoping to find some reason to break up the movement. Since they could never find anything illegal going on, they started to make up charges, based solely on the testimonies of known pathological liars, con men, and paid informants who got reduced sentences for helping to frame us. We figured out pretty quickly who was behind this plan to bring us down, since it was the usual suspects; jealous religious leaders, paranoid government bureaucrats, and community leaders who were afraid that anyone might challenge their positions.
Friends of the movement who had contacts in law enforcement began warning me not to go into major cities at all, since it was no longer safe to challenge our opponents on their turf. But, like my friends said, “once a rebel, always a rebel”, so backing away from a challenge was just not my thing.
When the biggest religious holiday of the year was to be celebrated with an international convention in the city that was the headquarters of our denomination, I told my followers to go ahead to the ceremonies without me. But once everyone was safely in the city at the religious convention, I followed them incognito, posing as a homeless street person, since most city people tend to ignore the homeless panhandlers. But when I showed up at the religious convention, someone recognized me anyway, which basically started a riot. My supporters kept trying to get me to charge the stage and address the captive audience at the convention, by force if necessary. I had to remind them that a choreographed event was not my style and a low-key grass-roots movement would likely have greater staying power than some flashy staged production anyway. Our opponents were also trying to get their hands on me to try to subpoena me on the trumped-up charges. Fortunately, my supporters crowded around me so tightly that they could not get close enough to have me arrested the first day of the convention.
But this did set off a major debate among the attendees at the religious convention, with a nearly even split between those who thought we were just troublemakers or even heretics, and those who thought we had grasped core spiritual truths that were missing from denominational religious practices. I guess you might say in a sense that I was responsible for the denominational split that later occurred, but that was not really the intent, just the effect. My intent was always just to encourage everyone to seek spiritual truth and apply spiritual principles in daily life, rather than getting tied up in knots over all the arcane doctrines and never-ending “programs for success in spiritual living” encouraged by the denomination leadership
Some would say it is inevitable that “the man” always wins or the system always crushes those who oppose the status quo. Looks like that was how it turned out for me after all. After all the big welcome and uproar at the first day of the convention, the denominational leadership got together with local government and law enforcement to bring me down. They had me arrested in early morning hours to bring me to a special court session on charges of inciting a riot, heresy, treason, unspecified crimes against the state. They tried to question my character with a bunch of innuendo about my sexual practices, but could not find evidence or witnesses, so they just leaked these allegations to the media to try to have me tried in the court of public opinion. Sure enough, that worked. A mob of our fine upstanding citizens gathered outside the courthouse with signs that accused me of being a gigolo, a pedophile, a homosexual, a whore-monger, as well as a heretic, traitor, foreign agent, and a bunch of other stuff they had cooked up purely for the shock value. Once they started repeating the same story in all the media outlets, even many of my former followers jumped on the bandwagon and turned against me.
From that point, you know how these things usually go…
Public officials “felt obligated” to acknowledge and respond to the public outcry for justice. Federal prosecutors appealed to national pride and patriotism to push for sentencing this “traitor” to death. Religious leaders lamented the threat to “our core beliefs” from immoral and subversive elements, and commended all the good moral citizens for their support in upholding “community standards of decency” by pushing for a harsh sentence.
I was convicted by a kangaroo court, sentenced to death and hanged, all within a few hours. My friends, followers and family were all shocked and disoriented by the sudden turn of events. The media rejoiced over the news that justice had been carried out so quickly for the public good. Religious leaders tried to get as much mileage as possible, warning the faithful to be on the lookout for false teachers, and to congratulate themselves for their leadership in ridding society of one such menace recently. Public officials starting spinning the story as a personal victory, trying to gather support their reelection campaigns.
But there was one thing they all missed – the truth. Truth that is more enduring than the universe, more penetrating than all the lies of men and demons, powerful enough to overcome even death. The truth about who God really is, how He works, and how He relates to His creation. That is why I can testify to you now about who I AM. God used me as His embodiment of truth, an example for all who are willing to follow.
This story is a fictional and highly condensed version of the life of the real human being who was known as Jesus of Nazareth. His story is retold as a first person narrative, paraphrased with modern terms and situations to better illustrate how Jesus might seem to us in our society. It seems bitterly ironic that Jesus would most likely be rejected in most American churches today because of His scandalous birth, His low social standing, and very blunt commentary on social norms that challenged public opinion about true righteousness versus perceived righteousness.