Volume 7, Issue 7, May 1998


"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."
- St. Luke 4:18,19.

The New Testament Gospels tell us that early in his ministry Jesus went, as had been his custom from boyhood, into the synagogue on the Sabbath day to worship. He was invited to read the Scripture lesson and to speak. He read the above words of the prophet Isaiah, then he applied the words to himself and them. We are told the congregation disbelieved him and openly expressed their anger by rejecting him and the message.

Two thousand years have elapsed and the message is still preached and still being rejected. What is wrong? Is it the idea? Is it us? The people of Nazareth had the chance to hear the message from Jesus himself and, instead of being persuaded became angry and drove the messenger away. Christianity has swept the world, yet the message, though proclaimed, is not taken seriously nor actively tried.

The cynics will claim that the human being, by our very nature, wants to crush opponents, and the vast destruction caused by innumerable wars down the ages, is proof that humans are destroyers.

Yet the history of humankind indicates that when given the opportunity we are principally builders, searchers for better modes of life and for wider horizons. What counts most is the will of individuals to improve themselves.
The hope of a secure and livable world lies in the disciplined and dedicated minds and hearts, set not on the preservation of any status quo, nor of the sanctified stupidities of the past, but on the building of an order in which the possibilities of life may be realized.

The historical background of Jesus' message was the belief that a people, the Hebrews in this case, had been given the revelation and purpose to promote the kingdom of God in the world. With exactly the same meaning we may more understandably use the term the realm of God. The very heart of the New Testament teaching is that the nearness of the realm of God is a promise of the closeness and familiarity of the power for good to be found within us.

The realm of God seeks consciences. It deals with character, not birth or position. It has no boundaries.

Jesus, like the Hebrew prophets before him, lived in the hope of a great transformation of the national, social, and religious life about him. Jesus sought to lead people to this goal. He rejected all violent means and thereby transferred the inevitable conflict from the field of battle to the antagonism of mind against mind, and of heart against lack of heart.

The fundamental virtue in the ethics of Jesus was love, because love is the society-making quality. Christianity seeks to prepare people for the nobler social order of the realm of God by stimulating and developing the dormant faculty of devotion to the common good in all of us.

Love in the New Testament description is not a casual sympathy, but the highest and most steadfast energy of a will bent on creating fellowship. In fact, the writers of the New Testament had to create a new word to differentiate the meaning of love as they had experienced it. They used the Greek word agape meaning love so different from ordinary love that it could be used to describe God. It is love that is unconditional, a matter of will rather than emotion, and conveys the idea of showing love by action.

This divine type of love or agape knows no limits. It reaches out and down even to ones enemies. Like God who causes the sun to shine upon the just and the unjust, Christian love enables one to love their enemies and pray for them that persecute them.

The application of agape to social relations and problems is our best hope for a solution to our social, political, world problems. There must be energetic and beneficent good will on the behalf of others; there must be an unselfish giving of ourselves for others if we are to relieve the tensions and distresses of our world. Only in this way can the atmosphere be created which will be favourable to a resolving of the conflicts between competing groups and classes.

Some people consider it far-fetched to believe that agape can and will be applied in and to the world and its problems. They contend that it is unrealistic to think that agape can ever be a reality in the world.

The early Christians taught that love is at the centre of human nature and quite possible to be developed fully. As the First Letter of John states, "...if we love each other God does actually live within us and his love grows in us towards perfection." It also exhorts, "...let us love not merely in theory or in words - let us love in sincerity and in practice!"

The Nazareth programme is a manifesto to every generation. It contains the principles by which we must judge ourselves and our society.

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"Religion NOW" is published in limited edition by the Rev. Ross E. Readhead, B.A., B.D., Certificate of Corrections, McMaster University, in the interest of furthering knowledge and participation in religion. Dialogue is invited and welcomed.