Living In the Kingdom of Heaven Now
Presented to an Interfaith Book Group August 4, 2008
We’ve read three books now which deal with a contemporary interpretation or reinterpretation of the teachings of Jesus, the New Testament, and Christianity.
These books are "Mysticism for Modern Times" by Willigis Jager, "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle, and "The God of Jesus: The Historical Jesus and the Search for Meaning" by Steven Patterson. And I’m presuming our next book, "The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith" by Marcus Borg, will be similar.
Jager is a German Benedictine Catholic monk who was influenced by his study of Zen Buddhism in Japan for six years. Patterson is an American Protestant theologian, a member of the Jesus Seminar and a scholar of the Gospel of Thomas. And Tolle, who has lived and taught in several countries, might be called a generic spiritual philosopher, influenced by his study of all the religious traditions in what was an effort to understand a radical enlightenment or mystical experience he had following years of depression.
This is definitely an intercultural and interfaith group of authors who, I think, offer us a radically different but quite similar interpretation of the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament. Perhaps it is a naive oversimplification, but I think they have independently concluded that the primary message of Jesus was simply:
The kingdom of heaven is within
The kingdom of heaven is without
God is within, God is without, God is everywhere, God is all of it, There is nothing but God
And, this is the zinger: We just don’t realize it!
In his book, "Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor,"
Joseph Campbell says, “In the Gospel of Thomas (Saying 113) Jesus’ disciples ask him, ‘When will the Kingdom come?’ He replies, ‘It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying 'Here it is' or 'There it is.' Rather, the Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.’"
“Not seeing it,” Campbell says, “we live in the world as though it were not the Kingdom. If you see that the Kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth while others do not see it, the End of the World has come for you, for the world as it was for you has indeed ended. You are not to interpret the End of the World concretely.”
Campbell also says, “In addition to being spread upon the earth around you, the Kingdom of God is within you.” He is referring to Luke 17:20 -21, “And being asked by the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God cometh, Jesus answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo, here or there! for Lo, the kingdom of God is within you.’"
The message that God is within, without, and everywhere, that God is everything, and there is nothing that is not God, is the metaphysical and mystical message that Jesus was trying to convey. This interpretation does not diminish in any way the moral and ethical teachings of the Old and New Testaments. Indeed, it provides the underlying foundation and rationale for them..... (continued - read the rest of this essay by clicking below)
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