More than 2,000 years ago, Jesus delivered important messages for us to live by. Most people think of his messages being associated with personal faith and spirituality.
But I think his messages relating to society were just as important as his messages regarding religion. This can be seen by comparing the two types of societies that existed during his time and the new type of society he envisioned. In such a discussion we should assess our progress in implementing his vision.
During his time, there existed two types of human societies. We call the oldest an “original society” found among hunter-gathers. In this society, all people within a social group struggled to exist based on what was provided in nature. Hunter-gatherers harvest their food, clothing, shelter and medicine by killing game and gathering minerals and plants. During Jesus’ time, many people still lived in original societies, as they do in some areas today.
Thousands of years before the time of Jesus, people learned to plant crops and raise domesticated animals. This made life easier. As populations increased, there was a need to create more complex societies. These complex societies included separate classes of people, some of whom were slaves. We call this a “class-based” society. This is the type of society Jesus was born into, and it still exists in many nations today.
But these two types of societies included some common characteristics. Each group had its own religion and government that functioned as a unified whole. Governments enforced religious behavior. Each group considered itself a nation existing separate from other nations. In an original society, all the people were of the same culture and race. In a class-based society the free people (not slaves) were of the same culture and race. In many cases free people and slaves were the same race.
Bigotry was an important factor in these nations. Greeks considered themselves superior; all other people were considered barbarians. Jews considered themselves God’s chosen people, and the Jewish religion was only for Jews in their Jewish nation. Bigotry was common among Jews. For example, they despised Samaritans. The historian Josephus documents violence between Jews and Samaritans during the first century.
But Jesus envisioned a new and different type of society.
Jesus envisioned Christianity being for all people throughout the world. At the end of Matthew, Jesus told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and earth. Therefore go and make disciples in all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and then teach these new disciples to obey all the commandments I have given you; and be sure of this — that I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”
Jesus did not envision a society in which religion and government function together. He stated that Christians should give to Caesar that which was Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.
Jesus taught us to love each other as ourselves. I cannot find anywhere that Jesus says we should only love those of our own race or culture. Jesus’ teachings are not in keeping with bigotry.
How are we doing in implementing Jesus’ social revolution 2,000 years later? Not well. Only 10 percent of American Christian churches are integrated. We are good at making disciples when the people we are trying to convert are far away, but loving our neighbors of a different culture or race doesn’t yet fit into “love thy neighbor.” And we continue to attempt to use government to force our personal religious views onto other Americans.
Let us hope we can do better during the next 2,000 years.