Eric Butterworth Speaks: Essays on Abundant Living #82
Delivered by Eric Butterworth on September 19, 1975
Volumes have been written about Jesus and His teachings, but hardly any accurate information has come down to us about much of his life. There has been much conjecture and much distortion, but not that much which is factually acceptable. We can be sure that He was born in a humble town of humble parents and that simple and uncomplicated surroundings were the realities of His early life. Jesus has been seen by us through our own Western standards; we must remember that He was a Middle Easterner, probably rather dark of skin, rugged, accustomed to sleeping out of doors, and eating simple, sparse fare. His Gospel was preached in simple words and was derived from typical daily life experience, illustrated with ancedotes or parables that were recognizable to all the common people of His day.
His philosophy started out as simple and workable, to be really lived by all and demonstrated by all, and as such it had great influence, but through the ages some truly amazing changes have been made in it. Sensing it as competition, rulers tried to stamp it out, then finally found they had to absorb it. Thus, it became the official state religion of Rome, institutionalized and actually melded with many pagan customs and beliefs that were then widespread.
Thus,it was that Christ’s teaching, so simple in essence, was given sophistication and mystification by philosophers and theologians who read into it all sorts of complicated interpretations. Fancy creeds and practices and liturgies and forms and ceremonies to be followed were developed. Jesus, originally the simple, humble, practical Galilee carpenter, was deified, and emphasis was given in all Christian writings and verbalizations on Jesus as “very God.” In later times, because of the insistence upon the divinity of Jesus and the miracle of His virgin birth, for example, many pragmatists refused to accept Him altogether. But, these disputed legends are really immaterial—the important thing is the simple and powerful truth He taught and that truth does seem to display the power of a dynamic, God-intoxicated person.
More important than the manner and circumstances of His birth and lifetime was the consciousness that grew in the young lad of his true identity, of His understanding of the immutable and changeless character of what we have come to call the Christ principle, of His calling to take up the mantle of the long-promised Messiah. The basis for traditional Christianity is the avowal that this prophetic hope was fulfilled in Jesus, that Jesus is the hope of mankind for all time, and that man must believe in Him to be saved.
But I say that this great hope was not fulfilled in Jesus but was revealed through Him. Thus, the true hope of mankind is the Christ spirit within the hearts of all persons, in this level of divinity which Jesus discovered and revealed in Himself. Was it predestined that Jesus should fulfill the prophesy of the coming Messiah? My answer is “No.” It was predestined that the Christ would find complete expression—the person,Jesus, simply and willingly became the channel.
Such glimpses into Jesus’ life reveal not one who was predestined as the “very God” going about His foreordained work, but as one such as you and I who had caught the vision of the infinite possibilities within himself, and who was taking up the cause of overcoming, struggling with humanity all the way toward the final overcoming .
We must recognize Christ not as a person, but as a divine principle. It is not a proper name, but a description of the level of divinity within man—He is the Son-of-God possibility that lies dormant within all of us. He became the the Christ in manifestation, as Browning wrote, “opening a way whence the imprison’d splendor may escape.” His life was devoted to helping every person find this same releasing. He said to us, “All these things I do, you can do too, if you have faith.”
It is significant that Jesus was very human. He loved to be with other people and attended all the festivities in Jeruselem. When he and his followers were criticized for going about with cheerful, sociable expressions he retorted, “Do the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is still with them?” With His contemporary life governed extensively by the various religious forms and customs and regulations that covered virtually every walk of life, he was openly scornful. The code of the Pharisees directed that one should walk only just so far on the Sabbath, but He walked as far and as often as He chose. “Remember, the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” was interpreted to mean that no work of any kind should be done on that day, but Jesus esplained: “The Sabbeth was made for man, not man for the Sabbeth.” He then proceeded to do whatever He felt needed to be done.
He was obviously a revolutionary, in a sense, but a practical, understanding one. The story of the Prodigal Son must have enraged many an established, self-righteous individual of the time: A certain man had two sons, the elder perfectly proper, perfectly uninteresting, hard-working, frugal. He conducted himself soberly and respectfully, but people were made gloomier rather than more joyful by his presence. He never had a generous impulse. The reckless, younger son asked for his portion of the father’s estate. Then, he departed from the country and lived a wild, self-indulgent life. Presently, penniless, he began to make his way back home with a repentant heart and a matured mind. He was received joyfully by the father who ran to meet him, embraced him, and ordered a lavish celebration to honor his homecoming.
The festivities were enjoyed by all but the elder son, who reminded himself that he had been working hard and saving his money while his younger brother was disporting himself in an irresponsible way. He had contributed nothing, and now here was a lavish party for him. The father, not exactly defending the younger son, nevertheless rebuked the elder, and pointed out that there are two ways in which a life may be wasted. He implied that although it is wrong to evade responsibilities and cause sorrow to family and associates and that this calls for repentance and a change in one’s ways, the other way is just as wrong. God is a generous giver; selfish acquisition is a form of sin. They who neither laugh or sing are out of tune with the infinite. God has exercised all His ingenuity in making the world a pleasant place. Those who find no pleasure and who give none offer Him a constant affront; however precise their conduct, their spirits offend. It is not enough to be good; one must be good for something.
In a religious world where there is heavy emphasis on the divinity of Jesus as God, we need to look to the human side of Jesus, in his living and teaching of the truth. Jesus made his way up and down the shores of the lake, through the streets of the cities and villages, in direct opposition to formalism, piety, and solemnity. When he said, “Follow me,” he meant to follow Him in simplicity of worship and expression of the warmth of human-ness and in realizing one’s own inner divinity. But shortly after His lifetime on earth the distortions began, and He who cared for nothing like ceremonies and formalities was made the idol of ritualism.
He had said, “Let your light shine, hold your heads high, you are lords of the universe, only a little lower than the angels, children of God,” but the human writers and theologians thought they knew better—to them he was “very God” and His followers were supposed to be “nothing, nothing, nothing!” “You try so hard to be holy that you forget to be human,” was the criticism directed recently at a very sincere minister, and I winced because that could be said about so many. The greatest compliment I can receive occurs when I am told that I would never be taken for a minister because I don’t have a religious look.
We use our human nature as an excuse instead of a challenge; a commonly heard alibi is that we are “only human.” What do you mean, only human?! Humanity is something to live up to, not live down to. To be truly human is to be only a little less than divine, and to be human is the way toward the full expression of our divinity in love and in kindness and in generosity. Jesus did not become divine by being less human—He gave full and complete expression to His humanity, which in its final state was transformed into divinity. Holy or human? That is the question.
© 1975, by Eric Butterworth