Jesus Mandate: Peace and Stewardship

Modern biblical scholarship has enabled critically thinking Christians to understand what the historical Jesus actually said and what was tacked on later to serve the interests of Rome and early church leaders, but those original messages remain politically inconvenient today, writes Rev. Howard Bess.

By the Rev. Howard Bess

We now have the best biblical scholars ever, academics who have developed research tools that amaze me and offer a very good handle on what Jesus said and what he did not say as well as the cultural, historical, religious and social context in which he lived and taught.

With what I now know, I find it impossible ever again to see Jesus with a sword in his hand or in possession of a protective shield. The Jesus that I meet in the Gospels is a man of peace, who gently nudges me toward non-violence. Love and kindness are the ways of Jesus.

Jesus as portrayed in stained glass as the Good Shepherd.

Jesus as portrayed in stained glass as the Good Shepherd.

Jesus taught his disciples (and us) to pray that the kingdom of God might come to earth. Yet, people of Christian faith can pray without ceasing but until we collectively abandon the ways of violence and war, peace on earth and the reign of God will never fully come.

The first great challenge to Christian faith in the future is the abandonment of the ways of violence and war. Love, peace and kindness must become synonymous with Christian faith.

The second challenge involves the ownership of property. This is a key to understanding the teachings of Jesus, who lived in a time and place of economic disparity. Jesus advocated a new celebration of the Year of Jubilee, which, according to the Bible, is the time when property and possessions were to be returned to the Temple priests for redistribution among the tribes of Israel. This massive redistribution was to take place every 50 years (though it never actually did).

Yet, there is no way we can avoid the clear Bible standard of limitation of private ownership — of land in particular and wealth in general. That was also the view of Jesus.

By Bible standards, today’s wealth gap between the rich and the poor is so enormous that it is a complete affront to the professed beliefs of those who are wealthy and claim to be followers of Jesus. The standard is clear: We are to be stewards of wealth, not owners.

Jesus advised one wealthy man to sell all that he had and give his wealth to the poor, then to follow him. Jesus ridiculed the man who kept building bigger and bigger barns to hold his wealth. These two examples are not incidental to the teachings of Jesus, but are at the very core of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Some people who call themselves Christians will cry out against these clear tenets from the Bible and Jesus’s teachings as the imposition of socialism. But the issue with Jesus and Bible standards is not socialism but stewardship. Christians are called upon to practice radical stewardship and to encourage others to do likewise.

The challenge of stewardship has a modern application to world environment as well. Stewardship cannot be understood only on the level of individuals. Stewardship is a major part of Christ’s challenge to churches, nations and the whole world.

The greatest challenges to Christians of the future are two in number: peace and stewardship. All other concerns pale in their presence.

The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska.  His email address is [email protected].

10 comments for “Jesus Mandate: Peace and Stewardship

  1. Robert
    May 27, 2014 at 10:55

    This is not the Jesus that has been on the tips of the gop/baggers’ tongues…Where do ya stash an AR in the robes? But you have described the Jesus I grew up with…The “peasant” Jesus, who was trying to teach us humility and humanity…it didn’t take with the self professed “God Botherers”…professionals with large bank accounts…I fear not for their souls…they are already burned….

  2. Robert
    May 25, 2014 at 10:54

    Modern Biblical Scholarship, eh? What is called in Protestant churches “Liberalism” and in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theology, “Modernism”–the dubious enterprise of finding the “Jesus of History” vs. the “Christ of Faith.”

    Why is it dubious? Because the teaching of the Church that followed in the Patristic period for let’s say the first three centuries of Christianity are perfectly in harmony with the teachings OF, BY, and ABOUT Christ as those in the NT–including his claims to Divinity and His role as the Saviour not only of the Jews but the Gentiles.

    Ditto for the teachings about the Church, and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

    But let’s talk about something REALLY inconvenient, in fact, in some countries possibly illegal–the animus and confrontations between Jesus Christ and His deadly enemies–no, not the Romans-but the Jewish leaders in Palestine, the Scribes and the Pharisees.

    You can almost open a NT at random, especially the Gospels–not just St. John but the Synoptics as well-and find Jesus blasting the hell-you should excuse the expression out of them for them being blind leaders, hypocrites, whited sepulchres, and children of the Devil. Passage after passage after passage.

    If you can judge a man by the enemies he makes, maybe that tells us that Jesus was a revolutionary-revolting against the oppressive control of the Jewish leaders. By the way, this analysis explains very easily who had the motive and who acquired the means and opportunity to have Jesus tortured and killed by the Roman authorities and yet avoid responsibility for His death-or so they thought.

    • May 25, 2014 at 16:25

      I think that in whatever society Jesus lived, and whatever the dominant religion was in the society where he lived, he would have had problems with the religious authorities in that society.

      Jesus was a Jew, and in the society where he lived Judaism was the predominant religion; thus his conflicts were with religious leaders who happened to be Jewish.

      In America today I think Jesus would be very harsh with the leaders in what are known as the Religious Right, most of whom are Christians. I.e. they loudly profess to be Christians and followers (and the “true” followers at that) of Jesus Christ. I think Jesus would have some harsh words about their attitudes of contempt toward those who are poor and less fortunate, toward women, toward gays, and toward those adhering to religions other than Christianity, and really to anybody who deviates from the standards set by white Anglo-Saxon Protestant Christian males. Not to mention their wealth (at least of the leaders in the Religious Right), and their chumminess with those on the political right.

  3. Morton Kurzweil
    May 25, 2014 at 10:28

    Don’t blame Jesus. Blame the Father who, as an idealization of Man’s image, made man in His image and gave dominion over every living thing, and then compounded this insanity with the injunction to be fruitful and multiply.
    Nature laughed at such hubris. We will bury humanity in competition for ownership of things we cannot possess, of life we cannot sustain and of resources that limit the available air, water, and earth necessary for an exploding population.
    We invented our Gods. Those who believe will soon run out of explanations for the constant state of war and misery that began with the first competition for life on this planet and has never changed with the evolution of Man.

  4. May 23, 2014 at 21:54

    Historical Jesus?? There isn’t one iota of evidence of a Historical figure known as Jesus Christ.

    • Skeptic
      May 24, 2014 at 23:56

      Perhaps you are correct. Jesus probably did not exist in the flesh, but existed in the spirit; in ideas, in behavior and as a model for a way of living.
      Its a pity, because if he had existed then it may have been more difficult over the last 2000 years to put words in his mouth.
      Jesus may not have existed as an individual, but in his followers.

      • Lutz Barz
        May 25, 2014 at 06:16

        if this premiss is correct the believers are under the influence of an unexplained psychic phenomenon that creates a split personality. not psychologically recommended. it leads to madness

    • Philip Feeley
      May 26, 2014 at 03:31

      “not one iota”? Really? The New Testament, Josephus, extra-biblical literature of the time, all seem to point to a historical figure. The challenge to it is pretty thin.

  5. Joe Tedesky
    May 23, 2014 at 13:19

    Rev. Bess, you have a nice view of Jesus, and one that I agree with. In fact, and correct me if I am wrong, but the only time I recall Jesus getting mad was when he crashed the merchant’s tables at the temple. We also know that was Jesus’s downfall.

    Jesus in my mine would be upset with today’s world I am sure. While there is good which we all sometimes ignore, there is much greed, which is flat out wrong. Take a look around; the Middle East, Ukraine, Southeast Asia, South America, and Africa, all suffering from man’s quest for more money. Read Smedley Butler’s ‘War is a Racket’ then think of Jesus. Even if Jesus were not real, or He were somehow different than we believe, Jesus would still make a good role model. At least by your and my interpretation Jesus could stand up as someone worth following.

    I don’t believe a person needs to go to church, nor belong to an organized religion. I believe God is everywhere, and that the first will be last as the last will be first.

    • Mike
      May 23, 2014 at 14:08

      Jesus did not turn over the merchant’s table, he turned over the tables of the money changers, which are our modern day bankers. If he did that today, he would again be crucified.

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