Scholarship in recent decades has strongly suggested that many of the "sayings" attributed to Jesus in the Gospels probably did not actually fall from his lips. Many were inventions of the various authors to support their particular agendas. On the other hand, individual scholars and groups of scholars have published lists of sayings that though their research and study they believe represent authentic words of Jesus. The lists are not exactly the same, but on some sayings there is near universal agreement. In this brief discussion, I want to focus on a few of these related "core" sayings.
Scholars agree Jesus encouraged people to "seek," to "look within," and to find the "light" within. And this is related to another theme on which there is general agreement that Jesus frequently spoke of what we have come to commonly call the "Kingdom." Jesus likely used the Aramaic work malkutha which does not imply a territory but rather sovereignty. Greek translators used basileia which is usually translated as "kingdom," "reign," or "empire;" and then in the King James translation basileia became "Kingdom of God" which has been in common use since. So, what did Jesus mean when he used this term?
In Luke Jesus is quoted as saying, "God's imperial rule is right there in your presence." In the Book of Thomas, a non-canonical gospel, Jesus is quoted as saying, "The Father's imperial rule is within you and it is outside you" and "What you are looking forward to has come, but you don't know it." This ever-present and ever-evolving realm is manifested in the interior life of individuals, in our relationships and culture, in nature, and in our social and political systems. This kingdom is not far away in space and time, but available to each person and at any time. Entering this realm we shed our self-sense of being a separate and disconnected individual. We become One.
This all fits for Jesus' encouragement of the development of personal spiritual awareness by looking within for spiritual truth and to be aware of and live in the here and now. This would have been particularly challenging to first-century conventions for it removed the spiritual realm from a distant heaven, in a future time, mediated entirely by the priesthood. (And didn't Jesus delight in challenging conventions of his time). Jesus' familiar sayings about the tiny mustard seed that becomes a large plant that provides shelter for birds and about the yeast that spreads throughout the floor have had various interpretations, but many scholars conclude that he was providing an image of inner spirituality as a small thing that can have profound meaning.
For me, the evidence is quite convincing that for Jesus the kingdom is here and now; inside of us and outside of us; and though initially small, can grow into something beautiful, meaningful, and effective. So, must not part of our journey then be to so seek that which has already come and is "within and without"?
"God of love and mystery, help each of us tend to our seed, our yeast. Guide us to find our inner light, our inner spirituality; and show us how to nurture this in such a manner that it will grow and spread within us, and then pours lovingly out to all those with whom we come in contact. Amen."
Dr. Stiles is a retired physician who specialized in Internal Medicine and Gerontology. He is an ordained Elder in the Presbyterian Church, USA. He was certified as a Spiritual Director by the Olivetan Benedictine Monastery in Pecos, New Mexico. Merrill is the current Chair of Pastoral Partners and a member of the Leadership Circle. He has been married to Carolyn for 55 years and they have two grown children and two grown grandchildren.