Searching for the real Jesus has been a growth industry and an obsession for several decades now. We read about “discovering” the tomb of Joseph and Mary the way medieval pilgrims heard that the head of John the Baptist had just surfaced in a French cathedral. The difference is that modern Christians want scientific, historical proof that Jesus walked the earth, and for many believers such proof supports their conviction that the New Testament is literally true in every detail.
Yet in almost every respect the hunt for the real Jesus is misguided. To begin with, there are two conflicting versions of Jesus, neither of which can be unearthed in an archeological dig. The first Jesus is the historical rabbi who wandered the northern shores of Galilee two thousand years ago. His public career lasted no more than three years, scholars inform us, and may have been as brief as eighteen months. The first Jesus disappeared in the shifting sands of time, leaving barely a footprint in history.
Yet so great was his impact that a second Jesus arose almost immediately, the Jesus of theology – the Son of God, the Holy Spirit. Anointed as Christ, he became the unwitting origin of a religion that has proliferated into more than 20,000 sects. The second Jesus was created by organized religion and cannot be approached without bushwhacking through the thickets of theology.
Many believers are satisfied with one or the other Jesus, and yet millions are not. They have witnessed their faith being hijacked by rigid fundamentalism. A teaching of love and peace has been perverted to justify war and bigotry. These deeply disturbing trends speak of a single radical need: the need for a new Jesus. In particular, there’s a hunger that has existed as long as the Church itself, which is a hunger to relate to Jesus personally. Although not raised as a Christian, I went to a Catholic-run missionary school in India and fell under the romantic spell of a universal Savior. I wanted to know, as anyone would, how to fulfill Jesus’s promise that the Kingdom of Heaven is within.
That desire lingered over the years, until it occurred to me that Jesus can be taken as a savior without being the savior. He can be accepted as a teacher speaking directly to me in the present moment. Such a teacher needs to cause total personal transformation. What Jesus envisioned was a world ruled by God, which cannot occur unless human nature changes radically. In everyday life Jesus’s teachings are impossible to follow. Ordinary awareness doesn’t permit us to follow the Golden Rule. If we treated everyone else the way we wanted to be treated, there would be no wars, crime, or divorce. If we obeyed the injunction to resist not evil, all too probably the world’s evil-doers would run amok.
What this implies is that there was a third Jesus, a teacher of higher consciousness. He wanted to raise his followers to the same level of God consciousness that he was in. Only then is Christian doctrine livable. If that sounds like blasphemy, consider John 10:34. The priests in the Temple wanted to stone Jesus for blasphemy when he claimed to be the Son of God, and he gave a startling reply: Jesus answered, ‘Is it not written in your law,” I said, you are gods”? He quotes Psalms 82 to argue that if scripture makes everyone a god, he cannot be blaspheming to make the same claim for himself. In many other places Jesus calls his disciples “the light of the world,” and he promises that they will perform miracles greater than his.
Years ago I ran across a book that intrigued me called “Be Your Own Guru.” In a liberated age, that’s an enticing offer. However, your personal vision must come from a deeper value structure – call it myth, archetype, or the wisdom tradition – and Jesus stands as one of the high peaks of that invisible structure. God-consciousness will never perish. Since Jesus once embodied God-consciousness, he is keeping it alive at this moment, offering to teach the way to anyone who wants to find it.
Deepak Chopra is founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in California. Chopra’s Wellness Radio airs weekly on Sirius Satellite Stars. He is president and founder of the Alliance for a New Humanity. He has written more than 50 books, including his latest, “The Third Jesus: The Christ We Cannot Ignore.” Go here to read an excerpt.