Jesus beyond Christianity
Seeker of Wisdom and Friend to the Powerless
Bruce G. Epperly
As a Christian, I believe that Jesus is the “light of the world.” John’s gospel says that God loves the world so much that he sent Jesus to be among us. The key word in both passages is “world.” Jesus is a global spiritual leader, whose life and impact go far beyond Christianity as a religion or any person’s individual salvation or well-being. This is not a matter of religious imperialism, a belief that Jesus is God’s only revelation, or that salvation or personal wholeness only come through a relationship with Jesus or the faith and practices of Christianity. Rather, it is an open door to the universal movement toward healing and wholeness present in all things.
Jesus was a healer. He shared healing energy to change people’s bodies, minds, spirits, and relationships. This is not Christian energy, but the universal energy that brought forth the big bang and the energy that Chinese medicine identifies with chi.
Jesus welcomed outcasts, people at the margins, and people who were ostracized as a result of specific illnesses. He is considered by many people the model not only for medicine but also faith at its best, a faith and medicine that embraces everyone regardless of their social situation or physical condition. Jesus shares the same spirit as the Buddhist Bodhisattva, who vows to defer her or his enlightenment until all creatures find enlightenment and wholeness.
Jesus sought the transformation of people and institutions. He was a critique of his own Jewish faith tradition: stalwart in affirming its truths but also challenging his faith tradition to fully embody the faith it affirmed. Jesus shares the same interplay of affirmation and challenge that characterizes the vision of Confucius, Lao Tzu, and Gautama Buddha.
Jesus challenged the powers of death that harm persons and communities. He embodied the spirit not only of the Hebraic prophets, but inspired the social conscience of Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Teresa, as well as unknown persons who seek justice for all people and sacrifice so that others might simply live. Jesus was a model for these people and others, some of whom are agnostics, members of other faith traditions, and seekers.
Yes, Jesus is larger than Christianity. He reflects a universal spirit – a harmony of harmonies and a divine spirit – of creative transformation and healing that embraces all of life and calls us to be people who identify our well-being with the well-being of strangers, neighbors, and the planet.The Christian scriptures say that Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature” and this is an inspiration for all seekers. Jesus grew in wisdom – the awareness of holiness and beauty in all things. Jesus grew in stature - the ability to embrace life in its diversity and fullness, including the stranger and enemy – while maintaining his own vision of healing, justice, and love.
Just as persons like myself can grow as Christians as a result of studying Daoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and native African and American religions, I believe that non-Christians – persons of other faiths, seekers, and agnostics – can grow through encountering the words and way of Jesus. Just as I remain a Christian, despite the impact of Chinese medicine and Hindu meditation on my spiritual journey, so others can embrace the way of Jesus while being loyal to their own faith traditions or their questions about faith itself.
One of my teachers John Cobb affirms that Jesus is the way that excludes no authentic spiritual way and I believe this is so. With early Christian theologians, I believe that wherever truth and healing are present – whether in a laboratory, medical clinic, meditation hall – the spirit of Christ is present, even if Christ is not mentioned or sought as a religious leader. Perhaps the same can be said for the spirit that inspired Lao Tzu, Buddha, Confucius, and healers and teachers throughout the ages. Our vocation is to listen for truth wherever it is found. In so doing, we are Jesus’ companions even when we travel beyond the religion that bears his name.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, healing companion, retreat leader and lecturer, and author of nineteen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living; God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus; and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.