Communism (Part 5)
Grace is as real as the sun that shines in the sky, or the air that we breathe, or the water we drink. In fact you could say that sunshine is grace, air is grace, water is grace. These are the basic necessities without which life would be impossible. Whether they come from God or nature is a matter of personal belief.
The term ‘grace’ is derived from two separate Latin roots: gratis or free of charge, and gratus, which translates as ‘agreeable’, ‘kindness’, or ‘thankful’. The English words ‘gratuity’ and ‘gratitude’ reflect these different but connected meanings. In the spiritual or religious sense, ‘grace’ is defined in my dictionary as “the free and unearned favour of God”.
Money is the antithesis of grace. Unlike grace it is not free at all. But grace is like money in one respect: faith is required to make it happen. Because we concentrate our faith on money, we allow ourselves only the bare minimum of grace necessary for survival. We take it for granted that the sun will rise every morning but anything more than that, like central heating or comfortable shoes, requires money doesn’t it?
As long as we continue to think like this we will remain stuck in the money trap. But it is not just us. Money is of no interest to the flora and fauna with whom we share the planet. It is easy to forget that the examples of grace I mentioned (sun, air, water) are there not just for the benefit of Homo sapiens. Plants, animals, insects, even microbes need them too.
What if we humans refocused our faith away from the lie that is money, to something true and authentic: grace? What would life on earth be like then?
In my research for History in the Making, I have often used the bible as a reference (see here for instance). Given the bible’s pervasive influence throughout history this is not surprising. In several articles I have focused on the gospel accounts of Jesus Christ. As regular readers will realise my research has led me down some bumpy roads, theologically speaking. Anyone not put off by my sometimes strange conclusions may like to continue reading. Others should probably stop here.
As I realised after my experience in Jerusalem several decades ago, Jesus’ very existence was such a reproach to the “ruler of this world” that, if Jesus himself could not be erased completely, his life would have to be misrepresented and distorted. Since his execution 2,000 years ago Jesus’ enemies have gone to enormous lengths to mislead the world about him. But even today the truth can be discerned.
Like many sources available to the historian, the gospels are like a jigsaw puzzle that is missing some pieces. To complicate matters, pieces from a different puzzle are mixed in as well. However, as long as enough of the correct pieces are present, the patient assembler can make a good stab at seeing what the full picture would look like.
That is what I have tried to do in my reading of the gospels.
Undoubtedly the strangest aspect of Jesus’ public life are the miracles he performed. Most of these involved him healing people who suffered from life-limiting conditions such as leprosy and blindness. According to the gospels there were even several cases where Jesus brought the dead back to life; the raising of Lazarus is probably the best-known example. In many instances of Jesus restoring someone’s health, the gospel writers report that he focused on the ‘faith’ of the individual concerned, whether that be the sufferer him or herself or a close relative. In fact Jesus implied that it was the person’s own faith, rather than any special powers Jesus possessed, that was responsible for their being healed.
When a leper who had just been cured of his terrible disease prostrated himself in thanks, Jesus said to him: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well”.1 In another episode two blind men followed Jesus into his home in Capernaum.
Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you.” And their eyes were opened.2
Gospel accounts of similar events make it clear that where the afflicted person was absent or unconscious, faith was also central to Jesus’ intervention. For instance, when a man sought Jesus’s help for his epileptic son Jesus responded: “All things are possible to him who believes”.3 In this case it was the father’s faith that made the difference. We are told that Jesus “healed the boy, and gave him back to his father”.4
Biblical scholars tend to interpret these miracles as Jesus revealing his divine origins to those around him. As one source put it:
Jesus’ miracles demonstrated that he was the expected Messiah and that God’s promise of a new kingdom is about to dawn.5
I am not sure if the “expected Messiah” bit was uppermost in Jesus’ mind. Would he really have expected people to acknowledge him as God before he consented to cure them? Is that what he meant by using the word ‘faith’ so often? Faith in him? I don’t think so.
As I observed in an earlier article Jesus taught his followers to pray to God, not to himself (you can read more here). He urged his listeners to give alms “in secret”, to pray "in secret", hardly the advice of a deity interested in self-promotion.6
It seems more likely to me that Jesus healed the sick, etc., in order to remind those around him of a universal truth humanity has forgotten, the truth about grace: that if we are prepared to acknowledge the existence of grace we will see that it is available in such abundance to everyone that even disease vanishes before it.
What strikes me in reading these miracle stories is how desperate many of the people who came to Jesus were. They or their loved ones were enduring such terrible afflictions that they were prepared to consider possibilities outside normal conventions. Another example illustrates this.
Several of the gospels relate the story of a woman who had been haemorrhaging blood for twelve years. We are told that she “had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse”. When she came across Jesus being besieged by the crowd she managed to get close enough to touch his garments. That was enough to cure her immediately.
This woman’s anguish was so terrible, it seems to me, that she allowed herself to venture beyond the apparent safety of the world she knew. When she found that money could not help her she became open to grace and it flowed into her through Jesus. As soon as Jesus realised what had happened, he told the woman, "Daughter, your faith has made you well.”7
This is why Jesus’ enemies wanted to destroy him. If humanity realised that money is not the route to success and happiness we have been conditioned to believe it is, the “ruler of this world” would be exposed immediately as powerless.
First though we would have to be shown that grace exists as a free gift to all, that it offers benefits far beyond the bare essentials we need to survive. That, I believe, is why Jesus performed his ‘miracles’: to show us that there was nothing miraculous involved at all, that any of us can do the same.
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John Bowker, The Complete Bible Handbook (London, 2004), p. 342.