Although I have referenced ‘Christ Consciousness’ several times from this pulpit I have never fully articulated what I understand it to be. It’s a way of recognising that in Jesus, there is something intrinsically more important than the mere words he spoke, more important than his teachings. Because teachings alone are problematic. A teaching, or a rule, or law, or precept, is by default a surface level thing, and Jesus wasn’t very concerned with surface level things. Whether we understand an individual to be adhering to a teaching or rule is, however, entirely dependent upon our observation of that person, on the external appearance of things. One might appear to be observant, following as they do the letter of the law, but in fact, be entirely disregarding the spirit of the law. To think about this in more depth, we can turn to some of the Mosaic Laws laid down in the Old Testament. Namely, the most well known, The Ten Commandments: ‘Thou shall not kill’, and ‘Thou shall not commit adultery’ to take two. In examining these two you will see just how wide the gulf can be between what we might instinctively feel these commandments are driving at, and how they were actually implemented.
So, to take the first ‘Thou shall not kill’ - pretty clear right? ‘Do not kill.’ Well, it is certainly not that straightforward. The Hebrew word which is most often translated into our word ‘kill’, would be better translated as ‘murder’. And murder is the premeditated killing of one person by another, so by just making that distinction, a lot of killing is permitted: war related killing, or accidental killing, or corporal punishment (indeed the consequence for breaking one of the Ten Commandments was itself death). These Ten Commandments are also only applicable to those in Hebrew culture who were capable of entering into a covenant, namely Jewish men. And so even the killing of a slave, though it would certainly be frowned upon and would carry some repercussions, even that was not a violation of the ‘Thou shall not murder’ commandment. This is what we seem to do naturally: once a rule is committed to paper, once it’s there on the page (or on the tablet) in black and white, we immediately ignore the intentions that brought that rule into existence, and begin imagining all sorts of creative ways of circumventing it to achieve the end we wish.
The second of our commandments, ‘Thou shall not commit adultery’, is even more interesting. We, today in the West, tend to understand that commandment to mean, don’t be maritally unfaithful, but it actually doesn’t mean that at all. What it is about is protecting the property rights of, again, Jewish men. So, in the seventh Century BCE, around when these commandments were written, the most important and valuable piece of property a man would have owned would have been his wife. Partly, because his wife could work, but primarily because she was the means by which legitimate children could be brought into the world. If, therefore, a man lay with your wife, your most valuable asset would have been sullied, and as such, that man’s actions would have in effect amounted to the very worst form of theft, and as such, he would rightly deserve the punishment of death. However, any other form of extramarital activity, which does not violate the property of another man, is not covered by this commandment. Namely, sleeping with a slave, or a concubine, or a foreigner, or a second or third wife, because of course it’s a polygamous culture as well.
So, if we believe then that the letter of the law is not good enough, that in practice it does not go far enough, you are left with two options. You can either try and expand out the law, by ring-fencing it if you like, to make inadvertently breaking the spirit of it even more difficult (but of course that does not necessarily solve the underlying problem, it just means that people will need to become even more creative in finding ways to circumvent it), or you can shift the focus entirely, and make it all about not the external observance of the law, but rather, the way it is practiced within the interior self. And this shift from the exterior to the interior is exactly the move that Jesus makes. “You have heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And likewise. You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
What Jesus is doing here then, is not expanding out the scope of the law in question. Jesus’s reading could not be implemented at a community or state level, because there would be no way of doing that. It would require knowing the heart of the would-be culprit. Instead, what Jesus is doing is asking each one of us to turn our attention inwards, to examine our own motivations, drives, the state of our own interior quietude. And how do we do that, how do we discover that interior domain for ourselves? Well, that was more or less what my address last week was about, sitting for long periods of time with the self, getting to know thy self. And Jesus himself suggests a similar practice. He says, when you pray, isolate yourself, shut the door, and pray to God who is in secret. It's also what Jesus models, when he goes into the wilderness for forty nights, again to confront the stark reality of his own interior self, which we know manifests in that instance as demonic.
One thing that often does drag our attention back to superficial concerns, the exterior domain, is our own ego. Our concerns surrounding how we will be perceived by others. This preoccupation with the lives of others, or more specifically a preoccupation with the way we are perceived by others, is one of the most toxic preoccupations there is, because it entails a complete detachment from the true self. The self becomes almost irrelevant in our efforts to craft how the other sees us. Again, it's very similar in effect to the person who strictly observes Mosaic Law; they appear the part, they’re good at finessing perceptions, but they’re lost, they don’t know who they are. To correct this temptation to elevate ourselves then, Jesus suggests we do the opposite, that we always presume our own lack of importance. And we saw this in this morning’s Gospel reading - Jesus suggesting that we never take pride of place, but always humble ourselves. Now, although you could obviously apply this directly to the dinner table, it is more significantly an attitude to adopt in relation to the exterior plane. The exterior plane is, as we know, illusory, and will ultimately disappear or burn up. Why then, do we fight to protect our status within it?
This is basically about cultivating good virtues, not morality. Morality is about what is right and wrong, whereas virtue is about developing habits of mind, and good character. In this way we are led towards the good, because our mind is preoccupied with it. This is what Christ Consciousness is as a state of mind, lived out from the interior. The interior where we discover God, the spirit of love residing within. And so, God is discovered to be in close proximity, the divine not being out there, but in here. Our entire being cannot then help being intimately bound up with the divine. In Jesus it is no longer about exterior things, not about law observation, or Temple rituals, but about the divine, or the light, residing here. You can see Jesus then as representing a jump in the evolution of human consciousness, the first to recognise that he was not separate from God, but that there is a unity which transcended everything, that his spirit, and the Spirit, are one and the same. One of those passages which jars with liberals is that quote from the Gospel of John – ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’ And the reason I think this jars so much, is we imagine ‘the way’ to be a way of being in the exterior world, a prescribed path that we must follow, lest we be damned. But that is not ‘the Way’ which Jesus speaks of; he speaks of the Way that moves from the external to the internal. The path inwards, to know thyself, to know thyself as intimately as Jesus knew himself. For after all, all that is external is finite, and will burn up, but here, the interior world, is without end.