Although it has meandered quite a lot, I think this "series" started out as an attempt to clarify why, although I am not enamoured with institutional Christianity, I still follow Jesus. Basically, it is because I see in Him the fulfilment of all that I see as real spirituality, and the antidote to religion. Ironic, huh, that so much religion has grown up surrounding his name!?
Many (perhaps most?) people who are familiar with the Jesus story, see it as a call to live according to Christian "law", perhaps a declaration that there is only one way; that being the Judeo-Christian cultural tradition, a denouncement of sin (because of course, that is how we got into this mess - all our fault!), a demand to ascribe to a particular set of "righteous" behaviours, and a requirement to join and belong to the "right" group. The reward for all this, is that you get to go to Heaven, rather than Hell (where all the non-believers end up) after you die, and an implied assumption that "spiritual" and "holy" are something quite apart from this tainted, earthly life.
The thing is, when you do see it that way, the person of Jesus actually becomes very difficult to reconcile with it. His behaviour and sayings become problematic and contradictory... because they really don't fit in with that view!
Think about it: Rather than uphold a single cultural tradition, Jesus welcomed outsiders, praised their faith, painted them as heroes in his parables and stories, and steadfastly refused to give credence to the established religious order.
Rather than denouncing sin, Jesus loved sinners, forgiving, healing and restoring them to relationship. On top of that, he himself consistently broke the Jewish ceremonial laws.
And rather than coming into the world of 1st century Palestine as "untouchable messiah", or even "supernatural liberator" in order to overturn the status quo, he instead entered into that reality - into all its messiness and grubby humanity - and lived it fully - accepting the worst it could deliver, without retaliation, and ultimately showing the triumph of love over all, including death. The more I look at this story, the more I see a narrative that reconciles "ultimate reality" with real humanity. The spiritual is NOT outside our flawed and broken experience - it infuses it. Connection with the divine does not demand some kind of step of "faith" into something that is not, but the honest embrace of what is. Healing and restoration do not exist somewhere outside our broken existence - they are exactly where we are.
Kind of sheds some light on the idea of "Emmanuel" - God with us - don't you think?
For me; whether you see this story as history, allegory, Gospel or fable, it is a story worth living into. I want to live open to the presence of love in all this mess, and the reality of restoration in the midst of brokenness. This is a story that speaks into the reality of my own existence, rather than calling me to be somewhere or someone "other", and compels me to hope, to love, and to become these things for the sake of others.
If "following Jesus" means walking the path that He walked, then it has nothing to do with wearing a particular label, hanging with a particular crowd, or following a particular set of rules. It has everything to do with entering reality fully and redemptively. That's something I can live by!