Greater love hath no man than this.
The surface character of the Logos, we can know from our own consciousness, since our consciousness is a direct ray of the Logos. All the powers within our consciousness are immediately derived from the Logos, however much we may have perverted them through the misuse of our free will. The cure of this perversion dwells in the regenerating power of the Logos in the heart.
Our free will itself is of the very essence of the Logos, a manifestation of divine creative power. And while, through misuse of free will, we have too often shamefully degraded the powers both of perception and of action, by turning them in wrong directions, yet the essence of the Logos, which is in these powers and in free will, makes possible their redemption.
Students of Theosophy believe that this redemption of all the powers in man is the main task and purpose of the Masters of Wisdom and Compassion.
The surface powers of the Logos, we can know in ourselves, though we rarely recognize the divinity, the profound marvel and mystery, of these “common” powers. For the most part, we thoughtlessly and heedessly take them for granted.
But the deeper powers of the Logos, in all their glorious majesty, we can perceive only as they are revealed to us in and by the Masters of Wisdom and of Love, who have found their divinity by losing themselves in the Logos.
The great Masters of the East, from the sages of the Upanishads to Shankara Acharya, have sought to reveal the Logos as Divine Light, that Light which, reverently and faithfully followed, will lead us along the path of redemption to our eternal home.
Saint John, the abstract quality of whose spirit makes him more Oriental than the other disciples, speaks of the Master Christ as the Light. But the Master himself seeks to reveal himself, and thereby to reveal the Logos, as Divine Love. In himself he manifests and reveals a love which seeks to give, not to receive; a love which comes, not to be ministered unto, but to minister; a love which gives itself to the uttermost, and receives only in giving.
The Master Christ is in himself a revelation of fiery, passionate love, a love which outstrips the utmost of romance; a love returned but timidly even by his immediate disciples, a love that has never been adequately requited. In the long centuries, a few men and women have given all that was in their hearts, with the eager hope to repay that love; in virtue of their supreme giving, they have rightly been honoured as saints. Yet in all history there is no such tragedy as that immense, unrequited love.
We may hold that a main purpose of that Master’s coming into incarnation nineteen centuries ago, coming as an Avatar, in the Eastern phrase, was to reveal this immeasurable, fiery and passionate love. And he appears to have planned to make this revelation in two ways: first, by immediately manifesting that divine love, with its healing and its joy; but also by hurling himself against those evil powers in the human heart which have been built up by the misuse of free will, and which are the negation and destruction of love; quite clearly perceiving from the very beginning that this fight to the death between love and hate must mean his own supreme sacrifice, a sacrifice which would include public ignominy, torture, the anguish and despair of his friends, a felon’s death. Supreme love could be revealed only by the laceration and desecration of love by hatred; only by the revelation of what love will gladly and eagerly suffer, in a self-giving to the very dregs.
This complete self-immolation, courted in a deliberately planned and purposed attack on the powers that are the enemies of divine love, shows throughout his mission from its very inception. This would seem to be the meaning of his declaration:
“Think not that I came to cast peace on the earth: I came not to cast peace, but a sword. . . . I came to cast fire upon the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?” (R.V.)
This calculated challenge rings out in the vividly recorded sermon with which he began his mission in his own city:
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and he entered, as his custom was, into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And there was delivered unto him a roll of the prophet Isaiah. And he opened the roll, and found the place where it was written,
“’The spirit of the Lord is upon me;
Because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor:
He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovering of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty them that are bruised,
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’
“And he closed the roll, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down: and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fastened on him.
“And he began to say unto them,
“’Today hath this scripture been fulfilled in your ears.’
“And all bare him witness, and wondered at the words of grace which proceeded out of his mouth: and they said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’
“And he said unto them,
“’Doubtless ye will say unto me this parable, Physician, heal thyself: whatever we have heard done at Capernaum, do also here in thine own country. . . . Verily I say unto you, No prophet is acceptable in his own country. But of a truth I say unto you, There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah . . . and unto none of them was Elijah sent, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.’”
We may be so familiar with this passage that we miss the challenge in it.
A paraphrase may make it clearer:
“You, people of my own town, who have known me, and whom I have known, from my childhood, are full of pride and self-complacence because you are Jews, the chosen people, children of Israel, of the stock of Abraham. But consider how the history of your nation rebukes your pride. Though there were many widows in Israel at the time of the great famine, Elijah was sent by God, not to these Jewish widows, but to a foreigner, a Phœnician, not of the house of Israel, not of the stock of Abraham. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha, but none of them was cleansed of leprosy, but only Naaman the Syrian, again a foreigner, not a Jew, not descended from Abraham. See how your own records rebuke your arrogance.”
It was a direct attack. How keenly this sword-thrust pierced, the next verses show:
“And they were all filled with wrath in the synagogue, as they heard these things; and they rose up, and cast him forth out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong . . .”
These same fellow-townsmen, immediately before, had fastened their eyes on him, wondering at the words of grace which proceeded out of his mouth. Thus did the Master Christ cast a sword upon the earth.
This first discourse in Nazareth, so marvelously recorded that we can see every movement of the speaker, and of those who heard him, embodies both elements of his message: the abounding love, and the fiery onslaught against the evil of self-centred arrogance, which makes love impossible. The Avatar came, bearing immeasurable gifts in his hands, glad tidings to the poor, the lowly of heart, release to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, liberty for them that are bruised, the acceptable year of the Lord; he stood ready to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke, bringing instead the yoke of his love, the yoke that is easy, and the burden that is light.
But, while he had so deeply studied and so profoundly meditated on the words of Isaiah, he had not less deeply studied and understood the hard egotism of the men of his city and his country. He knew beforehand that they would reject his gifts and put the generous giver to death, in the implacable war of hatred against love.
In the last quiet hours between the farewell banquet and the betrayal, when he said of himself, “I am no more in the world,” he set forth for his disciples the fundamental cause of this unappeasable enmity: “All these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me.” They had shut their hearts against the Light of the Logos; self-love had thereupon warped and distorted and corrupted every divine power and gift, turning to evil what should have been incomparable good. The corruption of the best is the worst; therefore, these powers, thus distorted and become demoniac, were insatiate in their hostility against the Life of the Logos, which is the Spirit of Love.
The full insight into the evils of self-love which were intertwined with the religious zeal of the Jews must have revealed itself gradually and progressively to his mind, from the days when, a boy twelve years old, he sat in the temple in the midst of the teachers, both hearing them and asking them questions.
We are told that his parents went every year to Jerusalem to the feast of the passover, and it is natural to believe that, beginning with this twelfth year, he accompanied them, foreshadowing the ceaseless journeyings of the three active years. of his mission.
Whether at Jerusalem or in Galilee, he had abundant opportunity to note the zealots who made broad their phylacteries, and enlarged the borders of their garments, loving the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi; the zealots who, when they gave alms, had a trumpet sounded before them in the synagogues and in the streets; who loved to stand and pray in the synagogues and at street corners, that they might be seen of men.
These generalized descriptions are based on keen and repeated observation, throughout years, and on profound meditation, which pierced through the outward appearance to the carefully hidden evil motive. We can conceive that, in this corrupting self-love, entwined about the things of religion, penetrating into divine things and polluting them, he discerned the ultimate enemy of divine love.
Seeing this egotism as evil, and the root of every evil, but most dangerous and malignant when it permeates and corrupts the things which concern the Father, the Master Christ made it the chief point of attack, hurling himself against it with the supreme energy of fiery love. Against it, as he foresaw, he was broken; yet, we believe, with the far-off, divine hope that, in the recoil, he would grind it to powder.
Therefore, it was against this stronghold of evil that he threw himself, in the synagogue of his own city, among his own townspeople; thus launching the attack which began the war of passionate love against the entrenched evil in the hearts of men.
The same passionate quality, as of a sword-point, leaps forth in many incidents; as, for example, when
“he entered into the synagogue, and there was a man there which had his hand withered. And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. And he saith unto the man that had his hand withered, ‘Stand forth.’ And he said unto them, ‘Is it lawful on the sabbath day to do good, or to do harm? to save a life, or to kill?’ But they held their peace. And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved at the hardening of their heart, he saith unto the man, ‘Stretch forth thy hand.’ And he stretched it forth: and his hand was restored.”
Note once more the instant response to this challenge: “And the Pharisees went out, and straightway with the Herodians took counsel against him, how they might destroy him”; evil hatred flaring up against righteous wrath.
There is the same passionate quality in this other incident:
“And they brought unto him little children, that he should touch them: and the disciples rebuked them.
“But when Jesus saw it, he was moved with indignation . . .”
Then instantly the manifestation of divine, compassionate gentleness: “And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them.”
On each occasion, this fiery anger, visible to all, flamed out when hard hearts put obstacles in the way of his compassion, the strong movement of the heart to pour out love. Many times that kingly movement of the heart is put on record: “He was moved with compassion . . .” or, in his own words, “I have compassion on the multitude.” The word the Master uses means a fiery longing, poured forth from the innermost heart, the virtue, the dynamic energy, which healed those who, with faith, touched even the hem of his garment; that living ray of the Logos which he embodied and revealed.
Without doubt, that compassion went out toward all right human relations, like the bond between husband and wife:
“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the twain shall become one flesh: so that they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
There is the same solicitude regarding the love of parents for their children, the love of children for their parents:
“For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, He that speaketh evil of father or mother, let him die the death: but ye say, If a man shall say to his father or his mother, That where with thou mightest have been profited by me is Corban, that is to say, Given to God; ye no longer suffer him to do aught for his father or his mother . . .”
Without doubt, the Avatar had at heart to sanctify all these human relations, permeating them with the love that gives, rather than seeks to receive.
Yet we are constrained to believe that his deeper purpose went far beyond even the consecration of these human relationships:
“The children of this world marry and are given in marriage: but they that are accounted worthy to attain to that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.”
“That world” is the eternal world of Spirit, to be entered by self-obliterating love of the Father, in contrast with “this world,” the transitory world of matter. The Teacher’s purpose is, to carry us over from “this world,” to “that world”; from the life of the animal, with its natural relationships, yet irrevocably subject to death, to a life equal to the angels, a life immortal.
“That world” is “the kingdom of heaven” of so many of the parables, which carry, without fully revealing, the deeper message and purpose of the Avatar, a purpose going infinitely beyond any amelioration of our mortal life.
It is profitable, with this in mind, to read and meditate on each one of these parables, seeking the revelation which it carries, of the Master’s deeper purpose, remembering that his true disciples are “the children of the kingdom,” to whom it is given “to know the mysteries of the kingdom.”
That world of immortality, entered through love of the Master’s spirit, is the hidden treasure, the goodly pearl, the seed growing secretly, the leaven, the grain of mustard seed.
Finally, there is the terrible tragedy of the parable in which, his outer work drawing to a close, the Master sums up the experience of his own mission, the fruit of his fiery contest against the powers of egotism entrenched in the human heart:
“Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country. . . . When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?”
Like the first great sermon at Nazareth, this brings us once again to Isaiah, into whose heart the Master appears to have poured so much of his spirit, in preparation for the supreme effort of his own mission:
“My well beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: and he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. . . . What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? . . .”
It is worth noting how completely the Master affirms his mission as an: Avatar; on the one hand, by declaring the manner and purpose of his coming, and, on the other, by setting himself apart, as it were, from the nation in which he had incarnated, and from certain ideas fundamental to that nation.
First, as to the manner of his coming:
“And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. . . . Ye are from beneath; I am from above; ye are of this world; I am not of this world. . . . I am the living bread which came down from heaven, I am that bread of life. . . . As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. . . . Yet a little while am I with you, and then I go unto him that sent me. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. . . .”
This is the whole cycle of the Avatar; the meaning of Avatar being one who, having passed through the river of death, comes back again to help others through the dark waters to the shore of eternal life.
Equally complete and striking is the way in which the Master sets himself apart from the frame of national egotism which shut in the Jews. He has come, indeed, to fulfill the law; but, speaking to the Jews, he says, “It is written in your law”; and, to his disciples, “The word that is written in their law”; never “our law,” as though he were identifying himself with them.
Again, the Jews held that the Messiah must needs be the son of David, of the house and lineage of David, and therefore those among them who accepted the Master as Messiah, including his disciples, hailed him as the son of David.
But the Master himself suggests that the real sanction of his mission is quite other than descent from David:
“How say the scribes that Christ is David’s son? And David himself saith in the book of psalms, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till make thine enemies thy footstool. David therefore calleth him Lord, how is he then his son?”
In the same spirit is his saying,—“And, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.” Again, descent from Abraham, and the covenant made with Abraham, were the basis of the whole pride of race and election among the Jews. But the Master deliberately puts himself outside this limitation, and claims for himself a sanction of a wholly different kind, when he says:
“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. . . . Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.”
It is worth noting that, just as he said, not “our law,” but “your law,” so he says, not “our father Abraham,” but “your father Abraham,” setting himself outside that frame altogether.
This complete standing apart from the traditional historic atmosphere of the house of David and the stock of Abraham may, perhaps, be brought into sharper relief by quoting as a contrast the words of a devoted disciple:
“I am a Jew . . . an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews.”
The evil which the Christian Master combats, consists, therefore, in taking the divine powers of the Logos, and prostituting them to the uses of egotism. The cure for this malignant self-love is a divine love that shall break and melt away the hardness of heart, drawing the divine elements of the powers from the meshes of egotism in which they have been ensnared; drawing them forth toward the Divine Glory of the Logos. The method of that Master was, to break hard hearts by the overwhelming tenderness of his love; to draw them toward himself by that love’s irresistible attraction, and thus to draw them out of evil isolation toward the Divine Union in the Father, the Logos.
Shankara Acharya, as a great Eastern Master, seeks to illumine the understanding, to quicken the intuition to the degree of inspiration, and thus to draw the spirit toward the oneness of the Infinite Light. The Master Christ seeks to break, to melt, to enkindle the heart, drawing it toward himself with the bands of love, so that the heart’s isolation, and all the self-centred evil that goes with isolation, may be melted away and the heart merged in the oneness of the Divine Heart, the Life of the Logos: “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself,” and thus to the Father.
It should be absolutely clear that the spirit of the Christian Master is as far as possible from a soft, general benevolence, easily tolerant of egotism, arrogance and malice. On the contrary, the more brightly his love shines forth, the more keenly does he attack these enemies of love.
We can do no more than outline this sharp contrast in the closing scenes of this immense tragedy, when, following the Transfiguration, he “steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
There have been endless discussions and controversies, during long centuries, regarding the Master’s manhood. We should like to see the word changed and, especially in these scenes of darkening tragedy, a clearer emphasis laid on the Master’s manliness, as he advanced unarmed toward certain death. Not less striking is the infinite treasure of compassion which he was ready to pour out, in those closing days, as, for example, on the household at Bethany.
Perhaps the first Gospel gives the clearest view of the succession of events: the royal progress toward Jerusalem, “Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass”; a progress which led him direct to the temple, and to that passionate act of protest, when he “cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers.” The tremendous rush of anger, finding vent in vehement action, is worlds apart from easy toleration of evil.
Then immediately his acclamation by the children, perhaps some of them the children whom he had gathered in his arms and blessed.
On the next day he renewed the attack, in the temple, in the presence of the chief priests and the elders of the people:
“Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.”
Then the parables, spoken in the temple: first the story, terrible in its anger, of the householder who planted a vineyard; then the parable, equally terrible in the pathos of divine compassion met by chill indifference, the marriage of the king’s son and the excuses of the invited guests.
Finally, the gathering of passionate love, and passionate sorrow for love rejected, in the closing scene:
“Behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify . . . that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth . . . O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.”
Thus the final attack was delivered, and the Master withdrew from the temple, the scene of so much of his teaching, to return thither no more. In the quiet hours that followed, while awaiting swift oncoming death, he gave his disciples the ultimate proof of his humility and his immortal love, after the farewell banquet, to the tragedy of which they were almost wholly blind. It is altogether fitting that the record of his infinite love, in the last address, should be made by the disciple whom, beyond the others, he loved.
Thus, with superb heroism, he waged his war, a war not for one life-span only, but for all time, until the victory shall be complete. Thus he revealed the Life of the Logos as flaming love, a love that burns everlasting.