The Proclamation of Basic Goodness | Ben Riggs

Mike’s note: What follows is a meditation in the vein of Finding God in the Body, Ben Riggs’ manifesto for embodied spirituality. Interested in a review copy? We still have a few copies for qualified bloggers via Speakeasy. Find out more here!

“They took up stones to stone him,” John writes in Chapter 10, Verse 31. Jesus responds:

I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?

They answered, as Caiaphas would soon thereafter:

It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.

You see, moments before Jesus said, “The Father and I are one.” Steeped in Jewish mythology, as Jesus was, he turned to his stone-toting audience and asked, “Is it not written in your book, ‘You are gods’? If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’—and the scripture cannot be in error,” he skillfully continued, “can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, I am God’s Son?” Simply put, if I am in error so is the book you believe to be inerrant.

Frustrated by Jesus’s sharp-witted response, the mob tried to seize him, but he escaped. Later, in the Sanhedrin trial, Caiaphas tried to pin Jesus down once again: “I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus replied, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

First he tells Caiaphas, “You have said so. But I tell you…” In other words, what you and I mean by “messiah” are two different things. Jesus then unpacks his messianic vision. He describes “a new heaven and new earth” where “God lives amongst mortals.” In his vision, humankind is at the “right hand of God.” The phrase “right-hand man” refers to someone who does the work of another, usually someone more powerful. Jesus is saying that humankind is the instrument of God’s peace and creativity. And that all the kings, queens, and ecclesiastical hierarchies cannot stop this evolutionary force because it is coming on the clouds of heaven. This is the messianic hope of Jesus.

The messianic hope is realized not by a prefigured savior or by a chosen few, but by the whole of society. “Messianic consciousness is not something that comes in the future; it is our intrinsic nature,” writes Rabbi David Cooper. “It is our birthright, available to all of us here and now. Although obscured over the millennia by clouds of ignorance, its light continues to shine in the divine sparks at the core of our being… In our time, the goal of raising holy sparks is nothing less than the attainment of messianic consciousness for all of humankind. In this context, the individual cannot be separated from the integrated whole; the collective enlightenment of humanity is clearly as relevant as any focus on individual attainment.”

When the messianic impulse is read through the lens of fundamentalism, it leads to complacency. Instead of saying “Yes!” to our adventure, we sit on our hands waiting on our savior. When the messianic myth is read within, it leads to responsibility. We all bear messianic responsibility. “You are the light of the world,” says Jesus. “A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp-stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

It is our task to transform the world, not by trying to change the people in it, but by recovering the spark of basic goodness that shines within ourselves and elevating that light to new heights. We must allow the flame of God’s Being to consume our whole person. When our life is set ablaze by the fires of basic goodness, others feel that flame burning within themselves. This is how the world is transformed.

Just before his arrest Jesus prayed, “Father, the glory you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.”  Jesus did not see himself as the Boss’s Son. He saw the flame of basic goodness in the heart of all people: “God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust alike.” His message was a universal one. He did not see man, woman, black, white, gay, straight, Jew, or Gentile. Jesus wanted to speed up the day when all of God’s children would answer the call to participate in the Power of God.

Reverberating in the mind of Jesus were the words, “God saw everything that God made, and indeed, it was very good.”  This “goodness” is at the core of the gospel message. It is the “good news.” At his baptism, when the heavens parted, Jesus heard the voice of God say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am pleased.”

At the top of the mountain, during the transfiguration, Peter, James, and John saw the heavens part and heard a voice say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am pleased.”

When we look deep within ourselves, we see that we are good. “Christian life and growth are founded on faith in our own basic goodness, in the being that God has given us with its transcendent potential,” writes Father Thomas Keating. “This gift of being is our True Self.” The light of our True Life may be obscured by the clouds, but it still shines.

On the mantle of Jesus’s baptismal confession was the proclamation of basic goodness, the gift of eternal Being—not immortality but I am-ness. When we place him at the center of our baptismal confession, we become idolaters. When we place Jesus on our altar, we end up loving him more than we love what he embodied, which lives in our body.  When we love something more than the indwelling presence of God, we break the first commandment.

Jesus walked the path for us, but not in place of us. He blazed a trail, but it is up to us to walk the path. The Power of Being must be resurrected in our body and no one can do that for us. We have to take up the yoke before us. We have to pick up the tools of self-analysis, study, prayer, and meditation.

Ben Riggs is the author of Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West, a featured columnist for Elephant Journal, host of the Finding God in the Body podcast, and director of the Refuge Meditation Group in Shreveport, LA. Ben has studied Buddhism and Contemplative Christianity for the past fifteen years in both Christian and Buddhist monasteries in India and the U.S. He lives in Shreveport, Louisiana with his wife and son.

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