What We Can Learn from Jesus
by Junelie Anthony Velonta
Many who live the secular lifestyle shun religious texts and teachings. While it is understandable as some texts and beliefs are reminiscent of divisive bronze age traditions, and as such have no place in the modern world where equality is key, those that do not take the time to read them miss out on some things. These religious texts were carriers of units of culture—memes. Religious memes, in a time where law and religiosity were one, dictated how people lived and behaved.
While these religious memes don’t translate perfectly to the differing cultures of the world, or to modern sensibilities, there are some that go beyond physical and cultural borders. Among those few that survive are stories and traditions relating to Jesus. Indeed, for a Christian, many things could be learned from the life of Jesus. From parables to miracles, his life as documented in the New Testament is full of teachings and lessons that make sense to the religious. However, Jesus was a teacher to all. Even if the miracles are removed, there are some things that the secular could learn. Interestingly, some present themselves only when the miracles and religious praise are wiped-off.
As such, in observance of this great Filipino tradition, instead of debating the historicity and “pagan-ness” of the Christmas celebrations, let us try to learn from the man whose birth is supposedly celebrated in this season.
Children need to Listen and Discuss to Learn
For Christians, the child Jesus staying behind on the temple was a manifestation of his spiritual ancestry. Surely, such understanding and curiosity could only mean that he is the son of god. But reading the story with a holy lens tends to erase some undertext. Jesus, at this time, was a child. However, he was seated with the teachers of the temple, treated not just as a child but also as one who was willing to learn and to share his understanding. Not only did he listen, he also asked questions and discussed with people whose status and age were above his. Yet, nowhere in the text was he dismissed simply because he was a child.
In Luke, the story ends with the verse “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and with favor with god and man.” Arguably, this event was an important part of Jesus’ growth. Perhaps, if the young were treated in the same way that Jesus was treated, they too would learn many things at a young age. If the young were listened to in the same way that Jesus was listened to, there might be synthesis between old knowledge and new ideas. Learning does not occur just in the school. If children are exposed to new ideas, and they are allowed to discuss and ask questions, they would learn even more.
Traditions should be Examined
One of the less famous stories regarding Jesus involved him debating with some pharisees regarding the lawfulness of harvesting grain during the Sabbath. The religious lesson came with the title of the story: Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. It was a representation of the paradigm shift that Jesus brought with him, especially when it came to religious belief and practice. The story itself is very short. However, in the few paragraphs that it did have, it manages to begin a debate that is non-religious in nature: “What are traditions for?”
The historian Eric Hobsbawm states that traditions are “invented” to legitimize a certain institution in society, or to mark a shift in behavior in response to a changing environment. In both cases, traditions serve the people which invented them. Parallel to this, in the second chapter of Mark, Jesus states in verse 27 that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for Sabbath.” While Jesus may not have been saying this outright, but this quote carries with it the implications of the empty observance of traditions. In fact, Jesus states this outright in his multiple woes and criticisms of the scribes and pharisees. When traditions have lost their origins and their purposes, they become empty, and many traditions that have taken such emptiness are easily twisted to bring harm and division among peoples. Instead of asking, “Are we doing this the right way?” Ask instead “Why do we do this in the first place?”
Miracles Happen After Action
The awe of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with just five loaves of bread and two fish is something most Christians don’t forget. It is the textbook demonstration of what a miracle is. Many, if not all Christians know how the story goes, with Jesus trying to get isolation from his cousin John the Baptist’s execution, but finding himself before a huge crowd. One event leads to next and now the crowd needs to be fed. In the gospel of John, a child offered his help, specifically that of his five loaves of bread and two fish, such that Jesus was able to feed every man present with much food left.
More often than not, this story carries with it the lesson that “everything is possible through god.” Revelation Velunta, a Filipino theologian, writes about such a miracle in another light: “The bread and the fish that lead to the feeding of the hungry multitudes were offered by a hungry child.” In his blog titled Jeepney Hermeneutics, Velunta points out the fact that liberative events happen after one takes the first step forward. It is ingrained in Filipino culture that change must first come from the approval of a higher deity. This focus on theodicy often removes the fact that every human being has the will to act, and to see change done requires the action of many even though only few started. Without the first volunteer, there would be no change.
There is much more to the stories of Jesus. Even when examined under secular lenses, many of his lessons and teachings apply not only those to the religious and faithful, but also to society as a whole. After all, Jesus was a reformist. He sought to make changes, solutions to problems that we still have today. As such, even if the miracles and religiosity are removed, it isn’t so bad to celebrate the supposed birth and life of such a forward-thinking man.