Jesus of Nazareth is, without doubt, the most known figure in Western culture. Christianity as a religion is embraced by one-third of the human population, solely based around his life and wisdom portrayed through his parables.
This, in and of itself, is an astounding achievement as the teachings of Jesus only were in effect around three years prior to his death, and yet in that short amount of time a tremendous world of truth, myth, legend, and superstition was built around him.
Even though Christians share a certain set of beliefs that they hold as essential to their faith, there is a wide range of interpretations and opinions when studying the Bible. For example, there are approximately 30 major Christian creeds or interpretations (from Catholic ritualistic ideas to Amish self-denying notions), and within each, an endless amount of sub-creed churches.
As a young boy, I constantly struggled with this problem when I was being taught the Roman Catholic way of understanding the Bible. Some interpretations I felt to be true, while others felt as though they were not congruent with my understanding of Jesus. This, I thought, was the essential problem when a living Master dies: when they are alive they cannot speak of truth because the truth is an experience, although they can point you in the right direction with their words. When living Master’s die, however, all you’re left with are dead words open to interpretation.
These words were full of wisdom and vibrancy when spoken by this man who had tasted the truth, but once he wasn’t there to correct any misunderstandings, his followers were left with their limited understanding of his messages. This continues to happen to this day with his contemporary followers who haven’t necessarily experienced the truth but continue to spread their understanding of his work with varied intentions.
Having understood all of this, I began looking at the words of Jesus in a new light, as complimentary guidance and wisdom to my own experiential journey.
I developed my own interpretations of his teachings, I don’t claim them to be true, but to those who might be on a similar journey, they may provide a deeper understanding.
The first 30 years of Jesus’ life were historically uneventful until the moment came when something suddenly awoke within him to begin his ministry. At last, he had found what he’d been looking for, and he wanted to share this with others. This statement perfectly embodies the awakening cry of someone who has come in contact with their true nature, their own authenticity, someone who listened to their spiritual thirst to find something higher than themselves.
The beginning of this passage is very significant. To transform yourself you must prioritize what you do; your life becomes a reflection of that which you ‘seek’. If money, relationships, sex, status, or power are your “God”, then your life will only become as fulfilling as the depth of what you are pursuing.
‘Poor in spirit’ has often been interpreted as false piety cultivated by either poverty of personality or material wealth. ‘Righteousness’ is a word I particularly dislike. It has caused so much destruction throughout time in the name of politics and religion. Even in psychology ‘self-righteousness’ is considered to be stubborn-minded behavior and arrogance that corrodes relationships (synonymous with the egotism mentioned above).
However, righteousness originally had the positive meaning of being “genuine” or “excellent”. It comes from the old English (which was used to translate the Bible) word: “right-wise“, meaning to be both trustworthy and wise. This statement can be translated as To have a deep drive and desire above all else for true wisdom that will bless you with much joy.
Although this is usually seen as a lesson in simple ‘Forgiveness’, it goes much deeper than that. Forgiveness for many people is just a dutiful task to do in order to appear pious (when deep down we still dislike them), or with the promise of heaven. But to the person who has awoken to their true nature, they realize the depth of interconnection that exists in life. It is at this point that the birth of compassion occurs in knowing that those who haven’t experienced the truth, or a God, still live as slaves to their emotions (anger, jealousy, lust, etc.), thoughts (traumas, beliefs, ideals, etc.) and reactive natures, that come from perceiving themselves as separate from everything around them.
By giving mercy we’re not just freeing others from the labels we’ve created for others, but we’re freeing ourselves from all that emotional attachment we carry around as the heavy inner energy known as ‘hate’. In these two sentences, Jesus described perfectly the eternal struggle of the sincere spiritual seeker; that of becoming a social outsider, a Lone Wolf.
Those who aspire to change, to transform themselves, to improve and become better, will constantly have to fight against the entire world, the social collective, and even their families. To strive to be aware and free from your mental chains made of beliefs, social values, and materialistic desires will most likely make you appear crazy or highly dangerous to the mass of man who is still chained.
Historically we are well aware of these patterns, and have kept them around as common sayings, with the likes: “A prophet is never recognized in his own country” or a “Genius is never recognized while they live“. A man of immense insight, Jesus anticipated the psychological idea of Projection” in this verse. With our judgments, our hatred, or lack of inner peace, we perceive these same elements in those around us who don’t share our perception.
There is a self-preserving nature within us all, an individualistic identity known psychologically as our ‘ego‘ that tries to protect its existence at the cost of denying us the ability to experience our souls. Our ego fools us into thinking that ‘attaining life’ is accumulating external things the likes of possessions, power, status, or pleasure indulgence. To ‘lose our life’ in this sense, is to lose this false reality, this dream we’ve created of who we think we are and where we think we come from.
Jesus was an intense man as can be clearly seen in Biblical accounts such as the story of the “Cleansing of the Temple”. He was a man who was radically uncompromising in his search for truth, and he expected no less from his disciples.
To prioritize the search for truth above all was an essential ingredient to be a sincere seeker. ”Hating’ your father, mother, etc. was a metaphor for placing everything beneath the intention to be aware in order to awaken to your higher divine self.
Superficially it may sound like a selfish act to place your quest for truth and liberation above your family, but deep down it is an act of pure self-love. To be able to help anyone, you must first be able to help yourself. To free yourself from the enslavement of your thoughts and emotions will transform you into a person that is centered and experiencing inner peace in order to help others. Without helping yourself first, you live a selfish life of indulging your ‘Pride’, and/or egotistical desires.
In these few words, Jesus was trying to solve the timeless problem many spiritual seekers encounter; that of thinking a God, Heaven, or Divinity is an external place or entity. Don’t believe anyone who is telling you to look here or there, because the only way you will find God is within, through self-exploration of exploring your own heart and soul.
At the very core of any religion, there are lessons that help you become a better and wiser person. It is important not to let our interpretations be tainted by others' understanding of them, and to only apply to our lives that which rings true to our own experience. These teachings of Jesus (as well as many other Masters), have helped me towards accomplishing just that, an aid towards my own inner work path.
Em Hotep - Patrick Gaffiero