An extract from the essay of the same name from the recently published book, Religion, Politics, and Reclaiming the Soul of Christianity: A Spiritual Imperative for Our Time and Our Nation, by Jon Canas
In Philippians 2:5, Paul urges us to “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” Since, literally speaking, one cannot acquire the mind of someone else, we must try to understand what Paul meant.
The passage becomes clearer if we understand Paul to mean attaining the ‘state of mind’ of Jesus. But a state of mind evokes thoughts and ideas and therefore what is limited to mental activity. In today’s parlance I believe that Paul was asking us to emulate the ‘state of consciousness’ of Jesus.
A state of consciousness is more than mental activity. In addition to thoughts and ideas, it also includes beliefs, values, and emotions. Paul wants to focus our intention on trying to understand what constituted the unique consciousness of Jesus that allowed him to carry-on his extraordinary ministry which, although short, would revolutionize spiritual awareness forever, well beyond the more traditional field of religious activity.
How can we attempt to conceptualize what constituted the state of consciousness of Jesus Christ? Fortunately, Jesus helps us in that search with his first major teaching known as The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). In that sermon, Jesus astonished his listeners because he significantly modified what they had been taught all along. They had learned about sinning that is well defined by the law of Moses, specifically by the Ten Commandments which told Hebrews what not to do. But Jesus was going much farther when he stated that any thought about forbidden acts were just as much a sin as the act itself. In other words, he meant that our intents, urged by our fears and desires, can be just as sinful as known sinful acts.
Jesus was telling us that our spiritual life is hindered not simply by committing known forbidden acts, but by the thoughts, intent, or desires to contemplate such acts. In other words, our psychological state matters, and we must work at becoming aware of it to purify not only our actions but our state of consciousness.
Let’s note that the root of the word sin in Aramaic, an ancient Hebrew language that Jesus most often used is, ‘missing the mark.’ Therefore, let’s broaden our understanding of what a sin really is: a sin is anything that gets in the way of achieving our spiritual objective.
In Matthew 6:23, Jesus was urging us to, ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” So, in Jesus’ mind, a sin is anything holding us from our objective to seek the divine Kingdom and to receive all the promised ‘things of God.’ You can see how most of us are too often like a driver given directions to a desired location who is prevented from reaching that destination due to not following the directions.
Forbidden acts deemed to be sinful are a function of one’s values and Jesus made his values very clear. The start of the Sermon on the Mount includes The Beatitudes, a passage where Jesus outlines the desirable values of the dedicated seeker followed by how he saw the key components of the Ten Commandments. The Beatitudes reflect Jesus’ over-arching value expressed in John 4:7, “God is love.” Jesus was simply telling us that any thought or intent, like any action that is unloving toward ourself and others is sinful.
The Sermon on the Mount is the outline of how to live as a faithful follower of Jesus. Today we can express that Jesus was telling us how to individually rise in consciousness based on the understanding that since God is love, it follows that God loves loving, and loves all those who are loving towards others. That love is expressed not simply by abstaining from hurting others but by being kind, civil, and helpful to them.
This reflection needs to be tempered by the understanding that all of us as individuals are subjected to the activity of the collective consciousness which is particularly active in our modern world. We are subjected to excessive exposure to an unqualified flow of information and entertainment. We accumulate a lot of visual and auditory suggestions that run the gamut from attractive to repugnant. Each one of us is constantly bombarded with images and suggestions that we cannot feel guilty about simply for being on the receptive end. However, such suggestions require some response from us. Some can be ignored instantly for being of no consequence or interest to us. Others are so far out of our range of values that they can also be automatically dismissed as a reflex reaction. However, some suggestions might attract our attention with an initial response of an emotional nature within a range of desire, fear and/or anger. These emotional responses will test our values, our beliefs, and our morality. They cannot be ignored. How we react to these types of stimulation is both useful and valuable.
I believe that life is a school that gives us the opportunity to learn about whatever unfolds in our experience, and to which we can respond in a way that will teach us what we want more of and what we want less of. In as much as such decisions call upon our values, we either rise in consciousness or regress. Thanks to the unconditional love of God, even when we regress we always have the opportunity to change and progress, not because others tell us to do so, but because we have learned from our actions and decisions. This process teaches us that our tomorrows are the projection of our values and beliefs of today, and that the best way to improve our tomorrows is to rise higher in consciousness today. It is also the best way to live our spiritual life.
Christians must also understand and accept that when electing officials, their choices reflect on them when the policies and actions of these officials are unkind to others, whether these others live in our community or across the globe. Politicians become an extension of our intent and actions, and to ignore that relationship continues the cycle of missing the mark.
Jon Canas is the author of the book, Religion, Politics, and Reclaiming the Soul of Christianity: A Spiritual imperative for Our Time and Our Nation, available at Xlibris.com.