The Inconvenient Sayings of Jesus


Some things just need to be pointed out. I’m not sure I’d go quite as far as P. C. Hodgell when she wrote, “That which can be destroyed by the truth should be,” but truth – so long as it’s for the purpose of building and improving – should be told.

As the title indicates, I’ll be discussing several of Jesus’s sayings today. And I’m doing this because I think there’s tremendous potential among the world’s 2.4 billion Christians. As I’ve said before, these are people who have committed themselves to a great man and to a generally useful book. There is a tremendous amount of good that could come from them. I write this to remind them that “church” should never be more important to them than Jesus.

So, let’s begin.

“Call no man ‘father.’”

This one’s obviously going to be hard for Catholic and Orthodox Christians, who call their ritual leaders “Father,” but truth matters, and we may as well start here:

And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.

That’s from the 23rd chapter of Matthew, by the way. And yes, it flatly condemns calling a religious leader “Father.” Don’t blame me for this. Jesus said it; I’m just pointing it out.

And if this bothers you, please decide who is more important to you: Jesus or a church organization. You really can’t have it both ways here (as much as many have tried). Jesus said a specific thing, and while we are free to say, “He was wrong,” or “The book was wrong,” we cannot claim that Jesus and the book are right and still call a man in a robe “Father.”

That’s just the way it is.

“When you pray…”

This one will hit nearly all the big churches and most of the small ones too. Nonetheless, here it is:

When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

So, that’s how Jesus said to pray. Notice that he didn’t say anything about praying together at a church… or even holding hands and praying together at home. Nor do we see Jesus presiding over any such thing in the New Testament. But we do read, “after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.”

And in the verse just prior to this one, Jesus said:

When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners…

Where then, does this leave public prayers?

So, if you think your church knows better than Jesus, pray in unison as much as you like. But if your church bosses don’t know better than Jesus, you might want to take your advice from the rabbi from Nazareth.

These passages are from the 6th chapter of Matthew, by the way, which
continues this way:

And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions, as the heathen do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.

You might want to give that one some consideration too.

“He that is greatest…”

Here’s what Jesus had to say about being a “great man” or “great woman”:

He who is greatest among you shall be your servant.

The word for servant, by the way, means “one who runs errands.” So, in modern speech, the saying goes like this:

The greatest man or woman will be the one who runs errands for you.

I’ll leave you to compare the actions of the big-name ministers to this verse (from Matthew 23), but I think we all know how that’ll turn out.

“My kingdom is not of this world”

Jesus wanted nothing to do with the governments of this world. It would be hard to be clearer than this statement from John 18, though there are others that are similar. Jesus defied the state agents of his time, and his first followers did the same. These things are obvious to any reader who isn’t hell-bent on evading them.

Christian “leaders” have whored themselves out to governments since the third century, and their ideas currently dominate many Christian minds. But with every theological excuse they spin, they push Jesus farther away from themselves.

“A new commandment…”

This last saying, from John 13, is, in my opinion, of central importance:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you.

Church people (and yes, I am generalizing, which isn’t entirely fair) are happy to debate doctrine at any length, but they consistently evade loving. Indeed, they become agitated or worse if you press the subject.

And to love one another the same as Jesus loved his disciples? They won’t accept that as a serious possibility.

But Jesus did think of it as a serious possibility. He thought his followers could do this. If not, he was simply being cruel.

So, again, you are free to shuffle past this saying with all due haste, but you are not free to call yourself a proper follower of Jesus at the same time.

You could of course call yourself a faithful churchgoer, son of the church, daughter of the church, or whatever. And that’s my point:

I hold that you should be free to choose whichever way you like, but I also hold that you should be honest about it: Jesus and church are not the same thing.

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* * * * *

Paul Rosenberg

25 thoughts on “The Inconvenient Sayings of Jesus”

  1. All of which only makes me feel prouder to call myself a Christian atheist.
    Whenever I am chastised (not often) by a “Christian” for my refusal to attend church or to tithe, I remind them of the claim in the bible that whenever two or more come together in his name, he (Jesus) is there.
    There is a church here that flies the American and the Christian flags, with the former in the superior position and the latter to it’s right. Since it is “Christ the King Lutheran Church,” one has to wonder what they think Jesus is the king of. Are these the kind of Christians that wanted George Washington to be our king?
    Yet another one knocked out of the park. Thank you.

  2. I’ve never been a church goer, but having read a bit about scientific Christianity from authors such as Emmet Fox, I agree wholeheartedly with your assertions that most churches have twisted the teachings of a great master to further their power. Thanks for bluntly stating what I have thought about so called Christians for years.

  3. Yeah, a congregation reinforces groupthink – it’s a codependent distraction. To paraphrase Van Morrison, “All the Christians go by/Dressed up for each other.”
    “I realize today that nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to take the path that leads to himself.” ~ Hermann Hesse, “Demian”

  4. I’d take the strippers and tax collectors over the Joel Osteen’s – and his ilk – anyday! Speaking of which, does anyone have 5 $1’s for a $5?

  5. Wow Paul, you really know how to slap folks upside the head and get them to think for themselves. I like it.

  6. One could of course add that Jesus actively preached peace, while his “followers” today explicitly cheer savage warmongers (their own nation’s only, of course).
    I’m an atheist, but respect Jesus as a good teacher of the right way to live among other human beings. It’s a shame that he has so few genuine followers today!

    1. There is an old saying by Bernard Shaw; “”Christianity might be a good thing if anyone ever tried it.” True words indeed.

  7. I’ll agree with you on everything but the public prayer. Jesus prayed over the disciples at several points, and Paul’s letters are full of publicly circulated prayers.
    Acts 12:12 “…where many were gathered together praying.”
    There is clearly a place for both private and corporate prayer. I think the point was not to pray in front of others as a display of pride. I will of course agree that much public prayer in churches is in fact the display of pride that Jesus was condemning.

    1. Hi Andy,
      I don’t see Jesus praying “with” his disciples (he’s shown making a couple of what we might call benedictions), but beyond splitting hairs over that…
      Acts 12 falls fully outside my purview: I’m willing to concede that these were good people, trying hard, but they were clearly not models of Jesus’ teachings.

      1. The question is one of intent. Do we try to garner praise by demonstrating how devout we are or is there a genuine attempt to reach our lord? In my opinion, public prayer is all too often done as a type of pre-programmed ritual or in an attempt to show that we are good Christians, The first example is a hollow display of devotion and the second is even worse as it is self-indulgent and vain. I have no issue with sincere public prayer but our goal in doing so must be clearly understood.

  8. From Luke 22: “24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (As he served them food at the last supper)
    From Acts 2: “46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (At The Last Supper)
    From John 13: “12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (At The Last Supper)
    From Acts 7: “2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
    Evidently it didn’t take long for Peter and the other 10 Apostles (Matthias was not one of them at the time of the Last Supper) to forget the lesson and the value of humbly serving at table, a lesson Jesus preached and vividly demonstrated the value of serving in order to lead by washing his Apostles feet and serving them their food. Was this the beginning of the hierarch so inimical to the ways of Jesus, which has petrified Christianity?.

  9. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesars,” also translated, “Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” means exactly that. And if you have nothing in your possession belonging to Caesar, give him that–Nothing!. The single most vile and damaging lie that has ever been told by many of the Christian Church “saints and leaders,” from Justin Martyr, to Augustine, to the present Pope, is the lie that when Jesus spoke these pithy words in response to the question of paying Caesar’s tax he endorsed paying taxes and put his imprimatur on the violent state. Nothing, but nothing could be further from the truth nor more damaging to mankind.

  10. ‘Call no man father’
    Anybody have any thoughts how this may pertain to one’s biological father? Never could figure that one out myself, and I refuse to talk to so-called religious leaders, ever.

  11. Excellent piece Paul. Too often, the concepts of a personal relationship with God and universal love are pushed aside in favor of church institutions, secular interests and material gain. These are all things that Jesus recoiled against.

  12. Excellent, just excellent. I do not attend church anymore. It came as a realization to me a long time ago that it was nothing but an elaborate show to accommodate the spiritually weak and those who are in need of an emotional crutch.
    All religions are man-made for the purpose of controlling the populace with a fear not found anywhere in the Bible. I’ve never understood those who say they are a “God fearing” person, nor the admiration of such. If one fears God, it’s obvious they are deluded by those who have conditioned them to think this. And there is only one age old reason for this — fear is the most effective means of control.
    It’s clear than these people have no clue about Jesus or God, but they will attend their church every Sunday (or Saturday) supposedly to cleanse themselves of what they’ve done to their fellow man the previous week.

  13. You kinda ignored Jeebus’ keen jones for all things “sword-y”:
    “he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one”.
    “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”
    Kinda fun: a naked armed gang led by a dude who claimed that the sky talked to him, roaming a sandy Iron Age landscape under military occupation. That generally ends about the same every time – someone gets nailed to a tree (or equivalent).
    inb4 “parable/analogy/what he really means is…” – the guy (who is probably a composite work of fiction anyhow) was talking to illiterate 1st century dimwits, not seminarians whose livelihood depends on appending new “epicycles and deferents” to the story (since nowadays they’re not allowed to set dissenters on fire).
    All people who live off others’ productivity have a tendency to speak obliquely, the better to (a) gull the gullible; and (b) be able to twist off the hook if called out for their govno.
    Cult leaders are just politicians – they have the same self-obsession, expressed in a different direction: Hamilton, Lincoln, FDR and Bush thought they were the right people to boss other people around; Jim Jones, Charles Manson, Jim Bakker, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed claimed that an invisible genocidal Iron Age sky maniac spoke to them (in private, of course).
    If L Ron Hubbard, Joseph Smith and the Catholic Church have taught us anything, it is that there is always rich pickings in charlatanry: the world abounds in rubes who are desperate for meaning in their lives, and who are willing to pay money they can’t afford to anyone who will tell them it’s all going to be good… they (the rubes) only have to do 2 things, both without questioning: (1) [insert primitive stupid ritual here]… and (2) pay for the upkeep of the story-tellers.

    1. The sword Jesus said h e xame to bring was the sword of the spirit – people would be divided as by a sword, believing or rejecting the truth he gave them. Yet he’s also called ‘the prince of peace’ because the way of peace is prefereable. It’s just that people choose to hate the truth, and that makes for violence.

  14. It seems you are guilty of doing what so many before you have done, and that is take things out of context.
    Consider Luke 11:1.
    And are you seriously casting aside anything that contradicts your position on prayer if it’s not found in the four gospels?
    What of Acts 4:23…4:31? Acts 6:5-6? Acts 20:36? Acts 21:5? Acts 22:17 (definitely NOT a closet). What of 1st Timothy 2:8? Is this in direct contradiction to Jesus’ teaching, in your opinion? Or is there more to Paul’s admonition than something purely literal? James, chapter 5, verse 14?
    How can you say these people were in effect operating outside of Christ’s teachings regarding prayer when they were also benefiting from the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in their lives?
    On another note, did Christ not attend Synagogue? Are you trying to lead me to believe that Christ didn’t pray (in public) therein, or at the temple during any of the hours of prayer in his lifetime? Was he not a practicing Jew?
    I have a hard time imagining it being as you claim. What you’ve stated seems more opinion than fact. I always strive to maintain an open mind in an effort to catch myself in possible error and make needed corrections, but where is the contextual evidence supporting your claim that the only authorized prayer by a Christian is one made in private?

    1. Morcrist: I’ve listed specific things Jesus said. You’re giving me reasons to ignore them.

      1. Honestly I’m just trying to understand where you’re coming from, Paul. Is context irrelevant then? Literal context (what we’re reading) and historical context (when what we’re reading was being written)?
        And are you trying to say that the only things relevant to modern Christians are what’s written in red, the words of Christ? That none of the epistles written by the apostles are “accurate enough” to be substantive Christian doctrine? Even when these same apostles were being demonstrably blessed with the Holy Spirit (something that I would think it safe to assume would only happen if they were acting in God’s will)?
        So is that what you’re saying? That context is irrelevant and that the only things important for doctrine are the recorded words of Christ.
        If it is what you’re saying can you point me in the direction of material that will help to understand why that’s a legitimate viewpoint for a contemporary Christian?
        If it’s not what you’re saying can you please clarify?
        Thank you for your time, Paul.

        1. I find Jesus to be very different from the apostles, and his words to be of a significantly higher caliber than those of Peter, Paul, etc.
          Were the apostles good men, trying to do the right thing? I have no doubt, but they differed from Jesus in many ways, and they clearly didn’t understand him.
          To be blunt about it, I find “Church,” in nearly all of its forms, to be the enemy of Jesus, evading his words and serving very different ends.

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