Jesus, Our Example

-Rev. Jane Siebert

Scripture Lessons:

2 Kings 5:1-14

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.”

He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

Matthew 11:28-30

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” *

Since the dawn of Christianity, there has been debate about the true nature of Jesus Christ.  Was he just a prophet, divinely inspired PERSON, son of God, or the incarnation of God on earth, God in the flesh, coming to us.

In Swedenborg’s work, The Lord, he presents answers about the nature and life of Jesus and the relationship of Jesus to God. His premise is they became in every way one and the same.  Swedenborg uses the term “Lord” to refer to Jesus as the embodiment of God.  

More importantly, in this little book Swedenborg emphasizes the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, Holy Spirit, not as three separate divine Persons, but three aspects of the Divine, all present in Jesus with his resurrection, his glorification. We often quote in our Adoramus. We worship the one God, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in whom is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus was a manifestation of God, the Divine took on “our nature”, to enable humanity to connect personally with the gift of a personal relationship with God. Prior to his coming God was rather incomprehensible to humans. The attempt to connect with God was by following all the rules in the Torah, the first 5 books of the Hebrew Scripture; we call the Old Testament. 

Through the birth of Christ, humanity was given a loving expression of God’s reality in human terms. The gospel of John lays it out clearly,

“The Word was made flesh and lived among us; and we saw his glory” -John 1:14

God came in the divine human form of Jesus to reveal the nature and reality of a spiritual life, and to provide a living example of it. That is the gift of our loving God, to take on our human nature and live like us. Because he was born of Mary and the Divine, we have this Divine Human, this “person” we can read about and how he lived on this earth and how he treated others and ultimately how we should live our lives. We can watch his struggles with temptations and relate to our own struggles. 

Some ask, if he was Divine, was he really struggling like we do? This is the important difference.  Jesus was not half human half Divine.  Jesus was fully human and fully Divine.  Each struggle was even more powerful than ours, because with overcoming each temptation he was putting off his human nature and putting on his fully Divine nature.  Each temptation brought him more fully into his Divine nature right up to the final temptation to come down off the cross, which he could have done. We speak of this as the glorification of Christ, becoming fully Divine, fully one with God. It was a process over his short lifetime.

No matter how different religious traditions understand Jesus, there is agreement that he set an example of how to live a loving, accepting, and merciful life.

Jesus led by example; he taught in parables; his ministry was not from a lofty, know it all position.  And yet, he spoke with authority and people were inspired by his words and actions. He left the disciples and all of us in freedom to follow if we want, with the depth of our understanding of his parables always open and drawing us in.  He showed us how to overcome temptations and that with each temptation we overcome, we move closer to the Divine and it strengthens the presence of God in us.

Let’s look at some specific lessons Jesus taught with his words and his actions.

At the Passover he celebrated with his disciples the night before he would be killed by wrapping a towel around his waist and washing their feet. He was their teacher, their Lord, their source of strength.  He told them, “I have washed your feet and you are to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” 

There are so many lessons here. We know it is not the physical washing of feet. It is way beyond this. Jesus is showing us to how to live a spiritual life. He is showing action in his love for his disciples, high integrity, gentle meekness, complete humility, and wrapping the towel around his waist showed equality with all stations in life. All are equal in Gods love and sight.  No one person or nation, denomination or even religion is superior – all are loved and all can lead to God.

Going back in Jesus’ life as a youngster we do not have a lot of information. One shining example is the story from the Gospel of Luke, with Jesus at age 12 sitting in the temple in the midst of teachers and those knowledgeable in the Hebrew Scriptures.  He was listening and asking questions.  And it says he gave some answers, and the elders were amazed.  Jesus understood way more than his 12 years and yet he was respectful and kept an open mind.  He knew could learn from them and so he listened. He told his mother when they came back to get him, he was about his Father’s business. This example teaches us to study and learn and keep an open mind, for we can learn about God through everything and everyone we come in contact with. 

We question, what about his miracles, curing people of illness and blindness and leprosy, bringing back from the dead? How do we follow this example?  We cannot cure in the physical sense, but we can aid and support those in illness and death with the emotional and loving presence we offer.  

He cured the blind.  We use the term blind in different ways, to signify lack of understanding, or a blind spot, closed to listening and learning more.  Following Jesus example, we can see our own blindness and what we need to do to see our why though it.  Sometimes we have something blocking our vision. In one example Jesus put mud on the blind man’s eyes and then told him to wash it off.  Mud represents a truth that is more experiential, touchable and teachable. I’ve noticed the wording that gets through to me the best is when someone says, “this is how I understand this”, rather than this is the truth, now believe it.  And then the individual is left to do some thinking, to wash off the mud when they are ready to see and understand.

Leprosy is mentioned many times in the Bible.  When we lived in Africa, we visited a leper colony. At that time, it was believed leprosy was very contagious. When exhibiting symptoms, they were ostracized to live in leper colonies. The colony we visited was run by missionaries in the area. They also needed extra care and protection, as the disease causes the peripheral nerves to deaden, and they could not feel if they were standing on a burning coal from the fire or had a rock in their shoe causing a sore. It causes disfiguring sores all over the body and endured a lot of prejudice and fear.

Leprosy is a disease of the skin. It corresponds to truth that has been falsified.  Our skin is important for our sense of feeling.  A skin disease, like leprosy relates to blockage of sensitivity to what is going on in our personal lives, just like leprosy deadens the nerves so people do not feel hot and cold and pain in hands and feet. It causes misperceptions, like taking the Word and making it say what we want it to say.  We are not sensitive to what it really says.  Or knowing the lessons of Jesus example and going ahead and living our life just the way we want to.

The illustration of Naaman’s leprosy in the Old Testament is an example how we can help someone who is suffering. Naaman was a famous person, a renowned commander, with leprosy. He came to the prophet Elisha as he had heard Elisha could heal.  Elisha sent a messenger out to tell him, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times and your flesh shall be restored to you and you shall be clean”. This simple instruction made Naaman mad.  He expected Elisha to come out and treat him with great respect. He had traveled a long distance and brought large amounts of gold and silver.  Sometimes we expect flashing lights and God coming directly to us when in need.  Naman was full of destructive pride and expected a fanfare of his healing.  When he received the message sent from Elisha, he stomped off, muttering about the silly thing he had been asked to do, to lower himself to wash in the Jordan River like the poor people of the area and seven times – what?

The story takes a turn due to his kind, compassionate and brave servants. They said, “If the prophet had told you something great to do, like climb a mountain, would you not have done it? Elisha said simply wash and be clean”. Fortunately, Naaman was able to hear their advice and overcame his pride and anger and did as he was told and was healed.  His friends helped him to put down his pride and do what needed done.

Naaman’s leprosy represents a spiritual problem that we can all experience. God had helped him in many battles, and he was a renowned commander of his troops. With each additional success he thought it was all him. He was puffed up so much with pride he almost missed the guidance offered him in how to become clean. We need our friends to help us see our faults and sometimes they need us to speak up.  Personally we need to admit our pride and do what we can to control it, realizing all good comes from God.

Jesus set this example over and over and it led his teachings in how to become lowly in heart, meek, teachable, humble, not arrogant or thinking we ourselves are wise.  And this is what brings rest to our souls. He said my burden is light and my yoke easy.  We are the ones that make it hard with our stubborn pride and impatience. Humility is the ground of every virtue, for it makes us teachable, obedient, patient, and forgiving.  All wisdom comes from God just like God is the source of all love.  We tend to incorporate them as our own, but this can lead us to blindness and leprosy. 

Like Jesus told his disciples, “Follow me”,

Treat everyone as a child of God – all nations, all religions, all people and the world around us.

Study and listen to what others say as we try to sort things our for ourselves

And don’t let our successes go to our head and affect us externally so it is hard for God to get through and to see that the life following Christ is not hard. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.  Love one another.

Christ tells us, “Follow me. And I will give you rest.”

*New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Rev. Jane Siebert is the current president of the Swedenborgian Church of North America. She lives in Wichita, Kansas, and enjoys the opportunities to visit Swedenborgian churches scattered around the United States and and Canada.