Jesus And The Being Mode Of Existence

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16 Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” 18 “Which ones?” the man inquired. Jesus replied, ” ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ “20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. 23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

19:16-29pp — Mk 10:17-30; Lk 18:18-30

Wow. If we choose to interpret this passage literally it appears that we are all screwed. The material wealth most of us enjoy in the Western world of the 21st century far outstrips anything the richest among the society from Jesus’ time could have imagined.

If you are a fundamentalist you might argue that Jesus meant rich in a qualitative sense, so if you are part of the middle or lower class then you are off the hook. However this is itself an interpretation and proves you are not a fundamentalist because taking the story literally, we can only say that a man with x amount of objects which were almost certainly less than the objects you possess was told he needed to give them all to the poor in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Actually being a fundamentalist is fundamentally impossible because it starts with the human choice to interpret the bible literally.

It is well known that Jesus spoke in parables. Like all great humanistic teachers he used metaphors to let his listeners relate to complicated psychological concepts in a way they could understand. Let’s interpret this story from a humanistic existential point of view to see what it says about Jesus’ worldview and what we can do to improve the quality of our own lives.

It is really about switching over from a having mode of existence to a being mode of existence. In the having mode I define myself based on external objects and possessions. Things like my job, my family, my car, my house, or how much money I have fulfill my psychological need to find meaning in life. They are all objects of devotion.

In the being mode of existence, on the other hand, my sense of self comes from an internal source. I unfold my unique personality and find my authentic path. I relate to the world and people in it lovingly. I develop qualities like compassion, reason, intelligence, humor, and curiosity that are actually independent of external objects. If I lose my house, car, or even my family I will not lose these internal traits.

Both the being and the having mode of existence satisfy fundamental psychological needs to make sense of the world and relate to it. However, you are always on shaky ground when you center these needs around the having mode of existence because any of these objects can be lost at any time. You spend your life trying to fortify them and make them safe rather than developing who you truly are. If they are taken from you then your sense of self is taken from you.

When Jesus tells us to follow him, he doesn’t mean it in a literal sense because in that case he would be just another object of devotion. Think about how most people view their relationship to Jesus. They pray to him in order to provide some essential function from the outside, like courage in the face of adversity. In a psychological sense these people are  polytheistic. Their Gods might be wealth, power, education, and Jesus, for example. These are all external sources that provide a sense of identity and fulfill the important existential function of giving a sense of direction in life. Jesus becomes just another external object, although obviously an extremely important one to many.

He probably actually meant to follow his style of living rather than him. If you read the new testament you will find that he often referred to the kingdom of heaven as having arrived. It was not some place in the sky but instead right here on planet earth. Through this lens, the kingdom of heaven is the state of turning joyfully towards life, work, and relationships in a being mentality. Following Jesus means following your own authentic path and developing your unique personality to become the person you really are. Your ‘treasure in heaven’ is the treasure that can never be taken away from you, your open attitude of being. All of these traits occur internally and you share them with the world. They are not dependent on an external object. This makes you free.

Jesus loved life and people. One of the miracles he performed was to turn water into wine in order to keep the party going and entertain his guests. He was highly concerned with friendship and authentically connecting to people. These were not irrational power relationships, as evidenced by the fact that he washed his disciples’ feet at the last supper. He is one of the great humanistic existentialists of all time and his example was to love life and to become yourself at all costs.

This is why the interpretation that Jesus died for our sins is befuddling and actually misleading. Jesus was a hero and like all heroes was willing to die before renouncing who and what he really was. He refused to deny what he believed to be true about himself, even though Pontius Pilate gave him several opportunities to do so and walk free. This is the salvation he offers from a being point of view. The challenge laid out before all of us is to develop into the people we know we are and become the most authentic versions of ourselves.

From this point of view, we can all enter the kingdom of God regardless of material wealth. This happens when our mentality switches over to a being mode of existence and we no longer rely on possessions or external objects to give our lives meaning or fulfill important psychological functions. We become who we truly are and share our love, productive work, and open attitude with the world. At this point it doesn’t matter how many or how few possessions we have because they no longer define who we are.