Why did they like Him?
We have been working on the book Sharing the Inheritance with a lovely graphic artist who has six cats - and seems to consider me her seventh. But I'm the only cat allowed into her studio, a fact which interests the other six, who gaze at us through the French doors. It's intense work.
As we described the visible and invisible Bequests that are part of the Inheritance, David and I thought about their sources. Gradually we realized that just as we could not describe Tibet without talking about Buddhism, we could not describe Britain or the Inheritance without talking about the man the Celts called Isu Mac De.
Isu is Gaelic for Jesus, Mac means son and De means God. To the people of the islands Isu Mac De was the Son of God and a friend. The two concepts – Lord and friend - were powerfully connected, and influenced the creation of the Inheritance in unexpected ways.
Mac De seemed to know them better than they knew themselves. He knew that they carried stones. They had acquired the stones painfully - first the stones that hurt them and then the stones they thought would protect them and then the stones they threw at others.
The stones were fear, narcissism, insolence, injustice, gluttony, envy, greed, sloth and rage. There were others – you know them. One of the heavier stones they carried was shame. They hid behind this stone, but it did not hide them.
Few admitted having the stones, but Mac De could see them. He told them to put them down.
At first they didn’t believe Him. The idea they could put down the stones with Mac De’s help and walk away from them and stand beside Him - two friends facing life side by side – was breathtaking and exhilarating.
When they picked up the stones again, as sometimes happens, He didn’t tell them that they were failures. He told them to try again to live as free men and women.
Not that He was all sweetness and light. He didn’t tiptoe around the subject of Hell - the fire that shall never be quenched. He spoke about it briefly and directly, like a friend saying Watch out.
Mac De touched those who were ill or crippled, and welcomed them back into the community that had shunned them. Asked about the man blind from birth, Who did sin, this man or his parents that he was born blind? Mac De said bluntly, Neither.
They saw that taking His words seriously gave the gift of affection to those in need and the gift of social mobility to everyone. People were not to be judged by their parents, their illness or their caste.
Image: James Fishwick
One of the first things they noticed about Isu Mac De was that He enjoyed sharing a meal with friends and drinking wine. He sat down with all those who didn’t make the cut at other tables, and at His table they were equals.
But He also understood that food was not all they needed. No one lives by bread alone, Mac De said fiercely, and He spoke for them. Even when they were starving, they longed for more than bread.
How many times should I forgive a person? Peter asked him, thinking seven times must be the outer limit.
Seventy times seven, answered Mac De. He added, If you forgive, then your heavenly Father will also forgive.
They were stunned. They had never heard anything about forgiveness before. (If modern history is any guide, many have not heard of it yet.) Hannah Arendt observes in the Human Condition that Forgiveness was a concept unknown in the ancient world until He introduced it. Mac De understood that when we forgive those who have hurt us, we free ourselves and transform our lives.
As people accepted forgiveness from God and from each other, the whole ethos of society changed. The reprisal culture that had been the norm was overturned. We have inherited His bequest of forgiveness. Societies where people forgive each other flourish.
Mac De was not interested in rules for their own sake. He said that all the laws depended on two teachings – Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbour as yourself.
As a result you would not depend on king or government to help your neighbour. You would help and cherish your neighbour yourself.
They liked that, and His subversiveness. Mac De gleamed with wit when he held a coin with Caesar’s face and said, Pay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.
Apparently he thought the small coin belonged to the government while priceless things belonged to God and your family and neighbours – and he wanted you to decide which was which.
One of Mac De’s encounters would particularly interest the people of the islands. One day while He was teaching, His mother and brothers could not reach Him through the crowd, and sent Him word to let them in. Those listening to Mac De thought that a man was bound to defer to and elevate his blood family as long as he lived.
But He looked at them and asked, Who is my mother and who are my brothers? And then He smiled, Whoever hears the word of my Father in heaven and does it is my brother and sister and mother.
In one stroke he had dissolved the imprisoning ties of blood family, tribe and race. That a person cherished others and forgave them was what mattered.
They saw Mac De as the head coach of a team of underdogs. They loved Him because He was a spiritual warrior who had died to free them from their stones.
The Second Day of Creation, detail
Edward Burne-Jones, Fogg Museum, Harvard
They believed in the miracle of His resurrection. They saw Him as the Son of God – and a friend. He was the Creator of Heaven and Earth and the Lord of Light who had lifted away the stone that was fear of death and had shown them how to live. He promised them that their lives were eternal and that what happened here on earth was only the beginning of their story.
Mac De told them they were the children of God and asked them to love. He showed them that the only way that we can truly love is freely – for love that is not free is not love.
When they helped each other by creating charities, trusts, friendly societies, hospices, hospitals, and schools, they believed He supported them. When they created a common law grounded in respect for the dignity and equality of every individual, they believed He cheered them. When they faced death in the cause of justice and freedom, they believed He stood with them.
If we've overlooked something, please write us. We've rewritten this post since it was first published.