Jesus: Wisdom Teacher
Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Guest writer and CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault continues exploring Jesus as a wisdom teacher.
When Jesus talks about Oneness, he is not speaking in an Eastern sense about an equivalency of being, such that I am in and of myself divine. Rather, what he has in mind is a complete, mutual indwelling: I am in God, God is in you, you are in God, we are in each other.
His most beautiful symbol for this is in John 15 where he says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Abide in me as I in you” (15:4-5). A few verses later he says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love” (15:9). While he does indeed claim that “the Father and I are one” (John 10:30)—a statement so blasphemous to Jewish ears that it nearly gets Jesus stoned—he does not see this as an exclusive privilege but as something shared by all human beings. There is no separation between humans and God because of this mutual inter-abiding which expresses the indivisible reality of divine love.
We flow into God—and God into us—because it is the nature of love to flow. And as we give ourselves into one another in this fashion, the vine gives life and coherence to the branch while the branch makes visible what the vine is. (After all, a vine is merely an abstraction until there are actual branches to articulate its reality.) The whole and the part live together in mutual, loving reciprocity, each belonging to the other and dependent on the other to show forth the fullness of love. That’s Jesus’ vision of no separation between human and Divine.
No separation between human and human is an equally powerful notion—and equally challenging. One of the most familiar of Jesus’ teachings is “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:39). But we almost always hear that wrong: “Love your neighbor as much as yourself.” (And of course, the next logical question then becomes, “But I have to love me first, don’t I, before I can love my neighbor?”) If you listen closely to Jesus however, there is no “as much as” in his admonition. It’s just “Love your neighbor as yourself”—as a continuation of your very own being. It’s a complete seeing that your neighbor is you. There are not two individuals out there, one seeking to better herself at the price of the other, or to extend charity to the other; there are simply two cells of the one great Life. Each of them is equally precious and necessary. And as these two cells flow into one another, experiencing that one Life from the inside, they discover that “laying down one’s life for another” is not a loss of one’s self but a vast expansion of it—because the indivisible reality of love is the only True Self.
Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—A New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambhala: 2008), 31-32.