Jesus for all
The Gospel According to Jesus – a New Translation and Guide to His Essential Teachings for Believers and Unbelievers, Stephen Mitchell, Harper Collins (1991)
Stephen Mitchell, a gifted translator of sacred texts from various faith traditions, begins this book by probing his own question: “What is the gospel according to Jesus?” He answers: “Simply this: that the love we all long for in our innermost heart is already present, beyond longing….”
This is one of many insights that make The Gospel According to Jesus a key reference guide to my critical analysis of any translation of the four gospels. Since it was first published twenty years ago, the book has helped me look at Jesus’ words, and works, with a less romantic eye. It’s freed me to ask myself, “is this particular passage, teaching, message consistent with the Master’s actions and over-arching legacy?”
Mitchell prepares the reader for an adventure through the gospels like a wise, funny, well-connected tour guide. Speaking to both believers and unbelievers, he introduces spiritual thought-leaders as diverse as Kierkegaard, Buddha, Gandhi, Emerson, Thoreau, Martin Luther King, and John Lennon. He examines how their inspirations and philosophies intersect with the essential message of his book’s protagonist: Jesus.
In his contrasting of Jesus’ family roots, with Buddha’s he writes, with wit and wisdom:
I don’t think we can fully appreciate who Jesus became unless we realize the overwhelming difficulties he must have had as an illegitimate child in a small provincial town, which one has to assume was fairly harsh and moralistic when it dealt with such matters. Mary may have been the most loving of mothers, and Jesus himself was no doubt an unusually gifted and joyful child; but even so, the atmosphere of public contempt and derision must have felt like a continual attack on his soul. When we imagine such a beginning, our admiration for him can only increase….
It is remarkable what an opposite and complimentary shape the life of Buddha had. He was born the son of a king, and in order to become himself, he had to overcome the difficulties that arise from being rich, all the temptations of luxury and power, the camel-and-the-eye-of-the-needle syndrome.
We can see the respective beginnings of these two great men as opposite ends of the spectrum that is the human condition. Together, their meaning is that no life is so sheltered or so shamed that it can’t be transformed into a vehicle of God’s grace, a vessel filled with the deepest charity and wisdom. So capable are we of using whatever materials we are given; so irresistible is the phototropism of the human soul. 1
You can see in this passage the depth of sweetness and sagacity Mitchell brings to his work.
Rich with poetry and humor, Mitchell’s examination of the four seminal gospels is a fascinating read for anyone eager to experience Jesus’ message within the context of a more universal spirituality. A first Appendix titled, “On Jesus” gathers passages from writers like Spinoza, Jefferson, Blake, Emerson, Thoreau, Tolstoy, Nietzsche, and more, as they comment on the life of the Master and his legacy.
Appendix Two: “On Healing” further explores his ministry of healing. And in Appendix Three: “On Miracles” Maneri, Blake, Shaw, and Saun comment on Jesus’ reported miracles.
Mitchell’s travelogue through the gospels is a book that had me at “hello,” and has kept me coming back for more than twenty years.
- The Gospel According to Jesus at 27. ↩
Topics: Christ Jesus, Interfaith | Tags: illegitimate, Jesus, Stephen Mitchell, unwed mother