I want to contrast this with the Jesus we find in the synoptic gospels. Mark’s, Matthew’s, and Luke’s version of Jesus is much more concerned with the material experience of people in his society.
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(Read this series from its beginning here.)
In Mark 8, for example, when the multitude was hungry, the synoptic Jesus did not offer them spiritual food or use food as a metaphor for his teachings. He stopped teaching and fed them literal loaves and fish. In Mark 10, seeing the wealth disparity in his community and noticing the poor suffer in a system that created winners and losers, he told an affluent man to literally sell his superfluous possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. Jesus didn’t simply point the poor toward the spiritual wealth of knowing him (gnosis).
I believe we don’t have to choose the spiritual over the material. I believe we can and must have a healthy balance of both. We need a holistic, life-giving interpretation of what it means to follow Jesus, one where people’s spiritual wellbeing is connected to their physical, material, emotional, psychological, economic, political, and social wellbeing. We don’t have to emphasize any of these to the exclusion of others. A more Jewish view of Jesus would have preserved his concern with liberating the whole person in whatever aspect of their lives they experienced harm.
As Jesus followers today, we must guard against the notion that only saving a person’s soul for eternity is important. That is not what Jesus teaches in our sacred stories. Yet our Christian history is littered with examples of a religion about Jesus that has cared more about saving people for eternity than creating a better world in the here and now where people are saved from the hell they are already enduring.
But like the water in the story of the woman at the well in John 4, the verses in this week’s reading have a gnostic bent to them. We’ll consider a possible balancing interpretation, next.
(Read Part 3)