A Personal Gospel … passed from Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth to Count Leo Tolstoy of Russia, and then to a small town storekeeper in Georgia

 

By Wallace Wenn

 

 (Introduction:  this was an exercise on my part to try to state the essential Gospel of Jesus in my own words.  I began it after reading Tolstoy's Gospel in Brief, which was his exercise of the same project.  Tolstoy made his Brief by organizing it around the Lord's Prayer.  I made mine simply by noting those verses which touched me in particular, then organizing them according to topic.  My words are printed in purple italics, while Tolstoy's translations of the Orthodox Bible, along with a few verses from the book of Thomas, are printed in black. This is not an attempt to cover all of Jesus' teachings, but it is rather an attempt to use my hearing of Jesus' teachings in order to develop a basic, work-a-day theology, somewhat of an outline of a theology, really. )

 


“God is the animating spirit within all humans that makes us who we truly are.   God as a Spirit is not bound by the laws of physical nature that bind this world, but the Spirit is in this world, inside of me and inside of you.  If we wish to address God, we should address God’s Spirit inside of ourselves, not simply by navel-gazing, but by our physical actions as well as our thoughts.

 

God is life (Mt. 16: 16-18, Tolstoy translation)

And Simon Peter said to him:  “In my opinion, your teaching consists in this, that you are the chosen Son of the God of Life.  You teach that God is the life in man.”

            And Jesus said to him: “Happy are you, Simon, that you have understood this.  No man could disclose this to you; but you have understood this, because God in you has disclosed this to you.  Not fleshly understanding, and not I, my words, has disclosed this to you; but God my Father has directly disclosed it.  And upon this is founded that society of men for whom there is no death.”

 

God is the spirit in man (Jn 3:32-36, Tolstoy translation)

God is a spirit; He cannot be measured, and He cannot be proved.  He who shall understand the word of the spirit, by this very thing proves that he is of the spirit . ...  God is the spirit in man.”

 

Spirit and works (Jn 4: 23, Tolstoy translation)

“The time has come when the real worshippers of God will worship the Heavenly Father in spirit and with works.  Such are the worshippers the Father needs.  God is a spirit, and He must be worshipped in the spirit and with works.”

 

 

 

“‘The Messiah’ is a title, a human word, but ‘Messiah”’ is also a spiritual reality like “God,” a concept beyond words.  Jesus liked to speak of himself as “ The Son of Man,” someone who recognizes the God-spirit within, listens to that spirit and acts on the message of compassion that is the mark of the God-spirit, rather than the message of selfishness, the message “of the flesh,” that also dwells in man.   In this sense, God shows us that the Spirit of God, the Spirit of The Anointed One and the Spirit of Holiness are all within us, just as they were within the man we know as Jesus of Nazareth.” 

 

 

 

The inner son (Jn. 5:44)

One cannot believe that which people say to each other, but one can only believe that in every man there is a son like the father.

 

(Jn. 6:43-45)

Do not debate as to who I am, and whence I am come, said Jesus.  My teaching is true, not because I declare, like Moses, that God spoke with me on Sinai; but it is true because it is in you also.  Everyone who believes my commandments believes, not because it is I who speak, but because our common Father draws him to Himself; and my teaching will give him life at the last day.  And it is written in the prophets, that all shall be taught by God.

 

Service of the son (Mt. 25:34)

“They have kept life by the fact that they have served the son of man.  They have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, and visited the prisoner.  They have lived in the son of man, felt that he only is in all men, and therefore they have compassion for their neighbors.”

 

What is the Christ?  (Mt. 22:42)

Then he said to them: “How then does David call Christ his Lord?  Christ is neither son of David, nor any one’s son after the flesh; but Christ is that same Lord, our Ruler, whom we know in ourselves as our life.  Christ is that understanding which is in us.”

 

All are sons (Jn. 10:37-38)

“Every man in the spirit is the son of God.  If I do not live in God’s way, then do not believe that I am a son of God.  But if I live after God’s way, then believe from my life that I am in the Father, and then you will understand that the Father is in me and I in him.”

 

Exalting the Christ within (Jn. 12:35-36)

Jesus answered: “To exalt the Son of Man, means to live by the life of understanding that is in you.  To exalt the Son of Man above that which is earthly means to believe in the light while there is light, in order to be a son of understanding.”

 

 

“The teachings of Jesus really can lead to all that we need for true happiness.  As we accept our place with God, as we accept that the Deity dwells in us, then we can feel our loneliness and our sense of isolation vanish.

 

 

The teacher within (Jn. 14:12-21)

And you know that he who shall follow my teaching may do the same as I; and yet more, because I shall die, but he will still live.  He who shall live according to my teaching shall have all that he wishes, because I shall die, but he will still live.  He who shall live according to my teaching shall have all that he wishes, because then a son will be one with his father.  Whatever you may wish that accords with my teaching, all that you shall have.  But for this you must love my teaching.  My teaching will give you, in my place, an intercessor and comforter.  This comforter will be the consciousness of truth, which worldly men do not understand; but you will know it in yourselves.  You never will be alone, if the spirit of my teaching is with you.  I shall die, and worldly men will not see me; but you will see me because my teaching lives and you will live by it.  And then, if my teaching shall be in you, you will understand that I am in the Father and the Father in me.  He who shall fulfill my teaching, shall feel in himself the Father; and in him my spirit shall live.”

 

 

“Just as the Christ Spirit is found within each person, so also a Satan, a spirit of accusation and blame, is also found within ourselves.  But the spirit of life, to which Jesus bore witness, can always overcome, can always save us.

 

The accuser within (Jn. 12:44-50)

“He who believes in my teaching believes not in me, but in that spirit which gave life to the world.  And he who understands my teaching understands that spirit which gave life to the world.  But if any one hears my words and does not fulfill them, it is not I who blame him, seeing that I came, not to accuse, but to save.  He who does not accept my words is accused, not by my teaching, but by the understanding that is in himself.  This it is which accuses him.  I did not speak of myself, but said what my Father, the living spirit in me, suggested to me.  That which I say, the spirit of understanding has told me, and that which I teach is the true life.”

 

 

Since we, and he, live in the world, Jesus used the vocabulary of his world.   He says that the Kingdom of God is a place where God lives, which is within us all, and around us all, but it is not visible to us all.  When you come to recognize the Kingdom, you will not ever want to be anywhere else, you won’t want to exist in any other framework of life, because the Kingdom of God is the only true, eternal place -- which is not a place, if you can understand Jesus’ meaning. We could probably call it a State of Mind, or a “Movement,” in the language of today.

 

 

Invisible kingdom on earth, within us (Lk 17:20)

“The kingdom of God which I preach is not such as former prophets preached.  They said that God would come with divers visible signs, but I speak of a kingdom of God, the coming of which may not be seen with the eyes.  And if any one shall say to you, ‘See, it is come, or it shall come,’ or, ‘See, it is here or there,’ do not believe them.  The kingdom of God is not in time, or in place, of any kind.  It is like lightning, seen here, there, and everywhere.  And it has neither time nor place, because the kingdom of God, the one which I preach, is within you.”

 

Thy kingdom come … (Gospel of Thomas)

The disciples said to him, “When will the kingdom come?”

 Jesus said, “It will not come if you look for it.  Nor can you say, ‘It is here’ or ‘It is there.’  For the kingdom of the Father is already spread out over the earth, but people don’t see it.”

The disciples said to him, “When will the repose of the dead happen and when will the new world come?”  Jesus said, “What you are waiting for has already come, but you don’t recognize it.”

 

 

 

“‘Heaven’ ” is not a place where we might go someday.  It is the place where we are home, the place where our spiritual side originated, and still is, if we wish to recognize such a reality.  And in that spiritual reality, all are equal.  No one is more filled with the spirit than any other.   The Spirit of God is without quantity. “

 

 

The spirit of heaven within us all (Jn. 3)

“Understand that, if man is conceived from heaven, then in him there must be that which is of heaven.  … I say that man, besides the flesh, is also conceived of the spirit, and therefore every man is conceived of flesh and spirit, and therefore may the kingdom of heaven be in him.  From flesh comes flesh.  From flesh, spirit cannot be born; spirit can only come from spirit.  The spirit is that which lies in you, and lives in freedom and reason; it is that of which you know neither the beginning nor the end, and which every man feels in him.  And, therefore, why do you wonder that I told you we must be conceived from heaven?”

 

No room for pride (Lk. 14:11)

So also in the kingdom of God there is no room for pride.  He who exalts himself, by so doing lowers himself; but he who humbles himself and considers himself unworthy, by this same means raises himself in the Kingdom of God.

 

Rewards of faith   (Lk. 17: 6)

“Faith does not consist in believing something wonderful, but faith consists in understanding one’s position, and wherein lies salvation.  If you understand your position, you will not expect rewards, but will believe in that which is entrusted to you.”

          

(Mk. 10:31)
 "There are no rewards in the kingdom of heaven;  the kingdom of heaven is its own aim and reward.  In the kingdom of God all are equal, there is neither first nor last."

 

 

“What must we do to enter this Kingdom of God?

 First we must learn to live for the present, because that’s where God lives.  Learn to be compassionate, and then learn to live without concern for those things that are not God, such as wealth, security and status, in the way that children are unaffected by these things.  Then we will find ourselves in The Kingdom, and when we are in God’s Kingdom, we will find ourselves doing good works, because God’s goodness will flow from us.

 

 

Live for the present (Lk. 12: 38)

“So in life also.  Always, every minute of the present, you must live the life of the spirit, not thinking of the past or the future, and not saying to yourself: then or there I will do this or that.”

 

(Mk. 33:33)

“And so, be not downcast, but always live in the present by the spirit.  For the life of the spirit there is not time.

“Look to yourselves, so as not to weigh yourselves down, and not to blind yourselves with drunkenness, gluttony, and cares; so as not to let the time of salvation pass.  The time of salvation, like a web, is cast over all; it is there always.  And therefore always live the life of the Son of Man.”

 

Be As Children (Mt. 19:1; Mk. 10:1; Mk. 10:13-16)
“And some people were bringing children to him, for him to bless; but the disciples rebuked them.  And when Jesus saw this, he was indignant, and said to them, “Let the children come to me, don’t try to stop them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I tell you, whoever doesn’t accept the kingdom of God
like a child cannot enter it.”  And he took them in his arms, and put his hands on them, and blessed them.

Inside like the outside (Gospel of Thomas)

Jesus saw some infants nursing.  He said to his disciples, “These infants are like those who enter the kingdom of heaven.”  They said to him, “How then can we enter?”  Jesus said to them, “When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside."

Jesus said, “If you bring forth what is inside you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you don’t bring forth what is inside you, what you don’t bring forth will destroy you.”

 

Where your treasure is (Lk. 12:32-34)

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

 

Life is to exalt the son of man (Mt. 25: 10, Lk. 13:24-25, Mt. 16: 27, Mt. 25: 32)

“Life is only for this, to exalt the Son of Man, and the Son of Man exists always.  He is not in time; and therefore, in serving him, one must live without time, in the present alone.

            “Therefore make efforts in the present to enter into the life of the spirit.  If you do not make these efforts you shall not enter.  You will say:  “We said so and so.”  But there will be no good works to show and there will not be life. Because the Son of Man, the one true spirit of life, will appear in each man, as such man has acted for the Son of Man.

            “Mankind is divided according to the way in which men serve the Son of Man.  And by their works men shall be divided into two classes, as sheep are divided from goats in the flock.  The one shall live, the other perish.”

 

 

“‘Salvation’ is not something we gain by saying the correct creed or performing the correct ritual.  In fact, just accept the good news that God saves you from the time that you first began to ask about “salvation,” and then get busy being merciful, giving help, taking out coins and showing love to all those who cross your path in this life.

 

 

Gaining eternal life (Lk. 10:25-37)

Once a certain scribe stood up and said, “Rabbi, what must I do to gain eternal life?”

            And Jesus said to him, “What is written in the Law?”

            And the scribe said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

            And Jesus said, “You have answered correctly.  Do this and you will live.

            And the scribe said, “But who is my neighbor?”

            And Jesus said, “A certain man, while traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, was set upon by robbers, who stripped him and beat him and left him on the road, half dead.  And a priest happened to be going down that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  And a Levite, too, came to that place and saw him and passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan (who was a blasphemer and from a impure people) who was traveling that way came upon the man, and when he saw him, he was moved with compassion, and he went over to him and bound up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them, and put him on his own donkey and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And on the next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and if it costs more than this, I will reimburse you when I come back.’

            “Which of these three, do you think, turned out to be a neighbor to that man?”

            And the scribe said, “The one who treated him with mercy.”

            And Jesus said, “Go then, and do as he did.”

 

 

Give all you have (Mk. 10:17-25)

A man ran up and fell on his knees before him, and said, “Good Rabbi, what must I do to gain eternal life?”
            And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone.   You know the commandments:  Do not murder; Do not commit adultery; Do not steal; Do not bear false witness; Do not defraud; Honor your father and mother.”

            And the man said, “Rabbi, all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

            And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said, “There is one thing that you lack: go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; then come and follow me.”

            But when he heard this, his face clouded over, and he went away sick at heart, for he was a man who had large estates.

            And Jesus looked around at his disciples and said, “Children, how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

 

 

“Can we speak with God the way Jesus seemed to do?  Certainly! Just remember when we talk to God, we should do it in private, and don’t ask for lots of things, because God already knows what we truly need.  In fact, it would be best just to listen to what God says to us, instead of asking so much for ourselves and for those close to us.”

 

 

No boasting, no public piety (Mt. 6:1-6)

But if you do good to men, do it so that no one may see it, so that your left hand may not know what your right hand is doing.  And your Father will see this, and will give you what you need.  And, if you wish to pray, do not pray like the hypocrites.  Hypocrites love to pray in churches, in the sight of men.  They do this for men’s sake, and get in return from men that which they wish.  But, if you wish to pray, go where no one may see you, and pray to your Father, the Spirit, and the Father will see what is in your soul, and will give you that which you wish in the spirit. 

 

There is nothing outside of ourselves that can change our status with God.  It is only those attitudes that come from within us, like anger, hatred, self-righteousness and pride, that can destroy the spirit of goodness that is within us.

 

Love & mercy in your soul   (Mk 7:14)

And Jesus called the people to him, and said: “Hearken all, and understand: There is nothing in the world that,                                                entering a man, could defile him; but that which goes forth from him, this defiles a man.  Let love and mercy be in your soul,   and then all will be clean.  Try to understand this.”

 

 

“God knows when you’re faking it.  You can declare yourself a true believer, and possibly fool yourself that you are on God’s Team.  But actions speak louder than words to God.  In fact, Jesus came for the sake of those who consider themselves unbelievers.  So don’t try to get on God’s good side.  Just perform acts of real compassion and love, because they will show true worship.

 

          A loving unbeliever (Lk 7:36–50)

“He who rests in orthodoxy will not do works of love, but he who considers himself an unbeliever will do works of love.  And for works of love, all is forgiven.”  And Jesus said:  “All depends upon what each man considers himself.  Whoever considers himself good will not be good; but whoever considers himself bad will become good.”

(Mt. 9:12)
“Understand what is the meaning of God’s words: ‘I desire love and not sacrifice.’ 
I cannot teach a change of faith to those who consider themselves orthodox, but I 
teach those who consider themselves unbelievers.”

 

“You know that family is important.  Now try to expand that feeling of family beyond yourself and your                                  immediate family.  If you are doing this, you will meet others who are doing this, and then your family will grow and grow.

 

A brother, or a mother, of Jesus (Lk. 8:19-21)

Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him for the crowd.  And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” But he said to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

 
 

 “Are there false teachers of Christianity out there? Of course!  But you should know the difference between truth and falsity by a simple test:  if the teacher is saying to blame someone else, to condemn someone else, to do something to someone that you wouldn’t want done to yourself, then that teacher is not of God.”

 

False teachers (Lk.6: 43-45)

A good man, from his good heart, brings forth everything that is good; but a wicked man, from his evil heart, brings forth everything evil; for the lips speak from the overflow of the heart.  And therefore, if teachers teach you to do to others that which is bad for yourselves-- teach violence, executions, wars--know that they are false teachers.

 

 

“Real Life is not biological life.  In fact, if you try for Real Life, get ready for pain and suffering in your biological life, because Jesus’ way is not a way OUT.  It is a way IN.

 

Get ready to suffer (Mt. 10: 38-39)

Jesus said:  “He who is not ready for all fleshly sufferings and bereavements, has not understood me.  He who shall obtain all that is best for the fleshly life, shall destroy the true life; he who shall destroy his fleshly life in fulfilling my teaching, shall receive the true life.”

 

 

“The Kingdom of Heaven is a place where charity and compassion wells up from deep inside, so don’t make a show about good deeds.  If you do, you’ve missed the point.

 

 

Charity

“Be careful not to do your righteous acts in public, in order to be seen.   When you give charity, don’t blow a trumpet to                     announce it … But when you give charity, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, and keep your charity a secret; and your Father, who sees what is secret, will reward you.”

 

 

“The Kingdom is about mercy and forgiveness, not about ‘making things right.’” 

 

Forgiveness

Peter once asked him, “Sir, how often should I forgive my brother if he keeps wronging me?  Up to seven times?  And Jesus said to him, “Not just seven: seventy times seven.”

 

 

Learning of spirituality, of God’s Kingdom, makes you feel joyful … not ecstatic, not relieved that you are saved from damnation, not happy that you are beating the system.  It makes you feel delight in just being.

 

 

Learning with delight

And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, wondering who he was.  And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

            And he entered the Temple and looked around at everything; but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

            And every day Jesus would go to the Temple to teach, and at night he would stay on the Mount of Olives. And early in the morning he would go back into the Temple, and all the people gathered around him, and he sat and taught them.  And they listened to him with delight.

 

Destruction of evil (Mt. 12:28)

“I drive out evil by summoning people to fulfill the will of the Spirit, the Father, who gives life to all.  Five commandments express the will of the Spirit which gives happiness and life.  And these commandments destroy evil.  By their doing so, you have a proof that they are true.”

            “It is necessary to be at one with the spirit of life.  He who is not at one with it, is against it.  It is necessary to serve the spirit of life and of good in all men, and not in oneself alone.  You must either hold that life and happiness is good for the whole world, then love life and happiness for all men, or else hold life and happiness an evil, and then not love life and happiness for yourself.”

 

 

 

 

 
The 5 Commandments of Jesus (Matthew 5)

NO ANGER

But I tell you, that everyone is worthy of judgment who gets angry with his brother. And still more to blame is he who abuses his brother.  So that, if you wish to pray to God, remember, first, whether there is no man who may have something against you.  … Know that God wants neither sacrifice nor prayer, but peace, concord, and love among you.  And you may neither pray, nor think of God, if there is but one man to whom you do not bear love.

 

NO WORSHIP OF ROMANCE

All sensuality destroys the soul, and therefore it is better for you to renounce the pleasure of the flesh than to destroy your life. And therefore, this is the second commandment:  Do not think that love toward woman is good; do not admire the beauty of women, but live with the one to whom you have become united, and do not leave her.

 

NO OATHS

I tell you that every oath is a profanation of God. Therefore, swear not at all.  Man cannot promise anything, because he is wholly in the power of the Father. Therefore the third commandment is:  Swear nothing to any one; say “Yes” when it is yes, “No” when it is no; and understand that every oath is evil. 

 

DO NOT RESIST EVIL; DO NOT JUDGE; DO NOT PUNISH

But I tell you:  Do not wrestle with evil by evil.  If any one wishes to take an ox from you by law, give him another; if any one wishes to get your coat by law, give him your shirt also; if any one strikes out your tooth on one side, turn to him the other side.  If you are made to do one piece of work, do two.  If men wish to take your property, give it to them.  If they do not return your money, do not ask for it. And therefore:  Do not judge, do not go to law, do not punish, and you yourself shall not be judged, nor punished.  Forgive all, and you shall be forgiven, because if you shall judge people, they will judge you also.  You cannot judge, because you, all men, are blind, and do not see the truth.  And do not think to find justice in the courts.  To seek legal justice, to hand matters over to human courts, is the same as to cast precious pearls before swine; they will trample upon it, and tear you to pieces.  And, therefore, the fourth commandment is: However men may wrong you, do not resist evil, do not judge, and do not go to law, do not complain and do not punish.

 

LOVE ALL MEN

But I tell you: love not only your own countrymen, but people of other nations.  Let strangers hate you, let them fall upon you, wrong you; but you speak well of them, and do them good.  Behave equally well toward men of all nations, and you will be sons of the Father.  All men are His children, and therefore all are brothers to you.  And, therefore, this is the fifth commandment:  Behave equally well toward foreigners, as I told you to behave among yourselves. 

 

You will not find God when you are angry.  You will not find God in romance and sensuality.  You will not find God when you make pledges and oaths.  You will not find God in a courtroom or when you seek justice on human terms. You will not find God when you regard anyone as different than yourself.

 

Obey and love (Jn. 14:15-21)

Jesus said to his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.  This is the Spirit of Truth, who the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. …  They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

 

       All these commandments are contained in this one:  

Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you.

or it can be said:

Whatever you want others to do for you, do for them.

or it can be said:

                     That which is evil unto you, do not do to any other man.

           This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary.

 (Hillel the Elder, c. 40 B.C.E. – 10 C.E.)

 

 

But pray like this(Mt. 6:5-14)

“And when you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and the street corners, so that people will see them.  But when you pray, go into your Father; and your Father, who sees what is secret, will reward you.

            “And in your prayers, don’t talk on and on, as the Gentiles do; for they think that unless they use many words they won’t be heard.  Don’t be like them, for your Father knows what you need even before you ask him.  But pray like this: *

 

            O Thou!  The Breathing Life of all,

Creator of the Shimmering Sound that touches us,

Focus your light within us – make us useful.

            Your one desire then acts with ours, as in all light, so in all forms.

            Grant what we need each day in bread and insight.

Forgive our hidden past, the secret shames, as we consistently forgive what others hide.

Keep us from hoarding false wealth, and from the inner shame of help not given in time.

            Don’t let surface things delude us, but free us from what holds us back.

Truly – power to these statements – may they be the ground from which all my actions grow:

            Sealed in trust and faith.

                Amen

* from Prayers of the Cosmos, Meditations on the Aramaic Words of Jesus, by Neil Douglas-Klotz, Harper San Francisco, 1990

 

(I don't use this prayer.  My own Lord's Prayer of the Protestant church version is too ingrained.  However, I do try to keep in mind when I say the prayer that there is deeper meaning behind the words I am saying.)